The Life-Changing Magic of Spending Money

The secret to finding joy in frivolous purchases

Photo: Blake Bronstad

Scientists who study human behavior have repeatedly proven that experiences provide greater lasting satisfaction than possessions, suggesting people should spend money on doing things rather than acquiring things. Fine advice if all you want is true happiness, but what if you desire to feel great and keep your pile of loot, too? Must you give up the goods you’ve been stuffing into your soul to smother existential despair? Great news: No. Indeed, the same scientists who dropped this downer-bomb on mankind have inadvertently also offered the answer to the dilemma. You can keep hurling luxury items into the void; you simply have to experience them more deeply to extract the joy.

So — how can you enhance the experience-value of your purchases? Get creative:

Popular materials for buying your way out of numbness include steel, leather, gemstones, and either rough-hewn or highly polished exotic wood. Consider ways you could source these materials yourself, adding to the experiential quality of attaining them. Could you take up welding or mining?

When you buy a top-of-the-line Italian cappuccino machine, turn it into a multi-sensory experience: pour enough cappuccinos to fill a bathtub, then get into it and soak. Listen to the foam fizz as the minuscule bubbles burst against your shins like tiny waves upon a human shore. This must be how Earth feels.

Allow others to share in your enjoyment of your goods, forging meaningful personal connections. Put your right leg into one side of a pair of bespoke suede jodhpurs, and have a neighbor put his left leg in the other side. Clasp hands. Walk together to a crowded marketplace and feel the presence of community around you.

Travel creates a bank of positive memories upon which you can draw at any time. Fly your $425 sunglasses to Central America and show them the Equator. Look around at the local citizens through your shaded lenses, holding their gaze and mentally trading places with them. How do you look in your new glasses as you survey yourself through their eyes? Fantastic, probably. You’ll never forget that.

Buy a sports car. Play small-scale sports while sitting in it, like mini-squash, baby-badminton, or hand-yoga. The endorphins your body produces through exercise block the chemical receptors of both physical and emotional pain. It’s an opiate for ennui!

Hold on to the fleeting comfort of designer accessories by wearing them for extended periods of time. Sleep in your new boots without socks for a week, allowing the hand-stitched labels to imprint on your calves. Take time each day to meditate on the joy the boots brought you the day before.

Incorporate giving into getting by combining shopping with charity. For every new device you purchase, buy a matching item and give it to a resident at a local shelter. As you lie awake at night, feel your blood pressure dip as you visualize how that person is enjoying their new Bluetooth earpiece, shower door-mounted MP3 player, or LCD-panel meat thermometer.

Photo: Rama/wikimedia commons

Go ahead and indulge in a Swiss watch. As you strap it on your wrist, admire how it shines as if radiating the peace you’d like to locate deep within you. Unscrew the crystal face and remove the tiny machinery. Place a cog on your tongue. Close your eyes. Imagine you’ve stopped time and that you’ll never die. You’re magic!

And if all else fails, take your new things into your hands and squeeze them. Mash them with your fingers until their particles seep through your pores and into your bloodstream. Grind your fancy new dishes together until they crumble into a powder. Squish your tubes of expensive skin cream to the point of rupture. Make a paste from your crushed trinkets and the sweat of your palms, and rub it on your face and arms. Smear it on the wall. Fling it by the handful at passersby. Experience the ever-living shit out of it. Doesn’t that feel great?

Mary Laura Philpott is the author of Penguins with People Problems.