Guest Registry: Curated by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton

by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton, authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending    |   May 21, 2014

Eliz Guest 5203

Just because money often fails to buy happiness, does it mean that it can't? This is the question that psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn and business professor Michael Norton set out to study. In their fascinating book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending , Elizabeth and Michael lay out the five principles that lead to happier spending. And to happy registering, for that matter.

In their guest registry, Elizabeth and Michael chose gifts that illustrate each of these five principles. As you register for your big event, keep these principles in mind to be sure that you're requesting gifts that will actually improve your life.

Tough Mudder Training Buddy

Material things (from beautiful homes to fancy pens) turn out to provide less happiness than experiential purchases (like trips, concerts, and special meals). But not all experiences are created equal. Experiences will get you the biggest bang for your buck if:

  • It brings you together with other people, fostering a sense of social connection
  • It makes a memorable story that you’ll enjoy retelling for years to come
  • It is tightly linked to your sense of who you are or want to be
  • It provides a unique opportunity, eluding easy comparison with other available options

And this leads us to Tough Mudder. The founder describes these intense obstacle courses as " Ironman Meets Burning Man." Enough said.

Let me host you!

This may not seem like much of a gift. Until, that is, you reflect on the second principle of happier spending -- make it a treat. Think about the fact that, although London attracts more international visitors than any other city in the world, most London residents report having visited more landmarks in cities other than their own.

Why would this be the case if, when people do get around to visiting their hometown landmarks, they report enjoying the experience? Here's the reason: when a pleasurable activity is always available, we may never get around to doing it. Introducing a limited time window seems to encourage people to seize opportunities for treats.

So, come on! Visit me and demand to see the sights!

Friday Night Happy Hour

Most people think that outsourcing our most dreaded tasks, from scrubbing toilets to cleaning gutters, makes sense in terms of freeing us to pursue our passions. But research suggests that wealthier individuals (who tend to outsource these types of tasks) do not actually spend their time in more enjoyable ways on a day-to-day basis. They tend to spend more of their time on activities associated with relatively high levels of tension and stress, such as shopping, working, and commuting. In fact, although purchases that reduce or eliminate the worst minutes of our day can provide a big happiness bang for our buck, time-saving products (or gifts) that only increase our efficiency may backfire.

Most people would benefit from using their money to change the amount of time they spend on three key activities: commuting, watching television, and hanging out with friends and family.

And, because people experience the most positive moods of the day while spending time with friends and family, we want to ritualize this activity. Give us the gift of social relationships, and spend Friday evenings with us after work!

Send Me a Delayed Playlist

Delaying consumption allows people to reap the pleasures of anticipation without the buzzkill of reality. In fact, vacations provide the most happiness before they occur. And research shows that waiting, even briefly, for something as simple as a piece of candy makes it taste better when we get it.

iTunes is the paradigmatic "consume now, pay later" service. Purchases download almost instantaneously, and, because users have given Apple their credit card information, notification of payment arrives much later. You would get much more happiness bang for your buck if you forced yourself to wait several days before listening to your downloaded album. Or get into the habit of preordering albums.

Because you can't preorder an album on iTunes as a gift for someone else, create a playlist for me. But here's the key: tell me what songs are on this playlist, but don't send it to me until at least a few days later.

Kiva Gift Card

New research demonstrates that spending money on others provides a bigger happiness boost than spending money on yourself. And this principles holds in an extraordinary range of circumstances, from a Canadian college student purchasing a scarf for her mother to a Ugandan woman buying lifesaving malaria medication for a friend. Investing in others can make individuals feel healthier and wealthier. With a Kiva gift card, we can make a loan to someone who wants to start or grow a business, afford school, build a house switch to clean energy and much more. So, please give us the gift of investing in others!