Money, happiness, and your mental wellbeing

Riches help us stay healthy, but apparently, money doesn’t make us happier.

As far back as 2004, researchers already concluded that life experiences are more likely to make us feel happy than material possessions. Despite that, like the participants of a 2014 study, we still feel that our money is better spent on material purchases than on life experiences.

In fact, some of us may not benefit from spending on a life experience at all. According to another study, if we’re buying an iPhone, a Balenciaga clutch and a Bulova watch to fit in with our peers, we’re not likely to feel happier after spending our hard-earned savings on a safari in Botswana or a nice dinner out with friends at a new gastropub like Timbre+. In fact, happiness won’t be the outcome for as many as a third of us, whether the purchase is something material or a life experience.

So, since getting the latest GoPro, admiring your newest acquisition at the Affordable Art Fair, eating your heart out at the current food fest Gourmet Japan, and taking your little ones to KidZania on Sentosa Island, may not improve your wellbeing, what could you be doing instead?

1. Know the value of your time
Happiness is linked to how much we value our time. A 2016 study found that happiness ratings were higher for people who chose to prioritise their time (e.g., a shorter commute or shorter working hours) over salary. It pays dividends to pursue work-life balance, it seems. But not necessarily in dollars and cents.

2. Practise gratitude
Results of a recent study show that those who express gratitude tend to place less emphasis on the contribution of material gains to their sense of satisfaction in life. To a smaller extent, people who experience positive emotions are also less likely to view material possessions as the ticket to happiness. So, even if shiny new things make you happy, you can elevate your wellbeing by being grateful. (And gratitude not only improves mood and sleep quality, but it’s associated with less inflammation and lowered risk for cardiac events).

3. Develop your sense of compassion
current study based at the Malaysia campus of The University of Nottingham is investigating the impact of loving-kindness meditation on individuals’ wellbeing and happiness. But earlier work has actually already established a number of benefits of practising mindfulness which focuses our attention on being kind and showing empathy to others. This sort of mindfulness practice encourages positive emotions and helps with anxiety and chronic pain.

4. Plan your travel and social events in advance
It seems that our experience of happiness — in the form of pleasantness and excitement — endures while we anticipate the enjoyment of a life experience. But this wellbeing doesn’t apply as well to material purchases, says a recent study in Psychological Science. In short, lengthening that anticipatory period might heighten our excitement and ultimately bring us more joy. Might we be even happier if our life experience was free (e.g., a picnic at Marina Barrage or a free concert).

5. Get involved with your community
Another way which raises our “psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing” involves voluntary work, while being employed on a full-time or part-time job. A 2015 study reports that voluntary work leads to greater satisfaction with work-life balance and lower stress levels.

6. Consider life’s adversities
It’s possible, it seems, to have too much of a good thing. Having an abundance of experience and being well-travelled, we can be underwhelmed by a visit to a “pleasant but ordinary” destination. But contemplating past adversities and considering life’s uncertainties, according to this 2015 study, can help us enjoy the small things in life.

Shortcuts to a happier life with your partner

Shortcuts to a happier life with your partner

There’s one day in the year we’re especially nice to our loved ones. There’s also another day we’re patient and generous with our time. And yet another that we’re considerate, amiable, sociable and conciliatory. We try to be our best selves on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. But what about the other days in the year?

Life in the fast lane often leaves us with spare precious time for romantic gestures during the ordinary work week. So what are some things we can do about it?

Based on recent research, there are actually a few small steps which can make all the difference. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Am I picking a fight because I’m hungry? 
A 2014 study found that couples were more likely to choose to subject their spouse to irritating or annoying sounds (fingernails against a blackboard or ambulance siren) when they were hungry (and having low blood sugar levels). So, have a meal or snack before you engage in verbal battles!

2. Am I punctual? Do I do what I say I’ll do?
A recent study found that couples who intentionally gave as much as priority to their partner as to their work, were less physically and emotionally stressed. Having a relationship work ethic means investing in your relationship, “putting the same kind of energy into active listening, planning time together, finding a workable solution for sharing household tasks, and handling personal stress so that it doesn’t spill over into the relationship” (sciencedaily.com).

3. Do I appreciate my partner and express my appreciation to him/her?
Research shows that successful relationships are rooted in a culture of trust and intimacy. These couples seek to express appreciation for their partner; they also respond in such a way as to meet their partner’s emotional needs. In contrast, the silent treatment — where one responds to demands from one’s partner’s by withdrawing — is a sign of distress within a relationship. The key to a successful relationship is kindness. So practice kindness, starting with this resource list and these ideas.

4. Would I watch and talk about these movies with my partner?
A recent study found that having couples watch and discuss one relationship movie a week over a period of a month, was as effective as conflict management training and compassion and acceptance training in reducing divorce-and-separation rates. Couples trained to manage conflict were encouraged to use active listening when communicating with their spouse, while those trained to communicate with compassion and empathy were encouraged to practice random acts of kindness and affection and to communicate effectively. So if attending therapy sessions is daunting, get comfy on the sofa and discuss these questions with your partner after the movie ends.

Finally, here are some tips for small problems and the basics to building a strong relationship. There are no real shortcuts to the happy life. Kindness takes practice.