On Quora, the social question-and-answer site, a user asked: “What life lessons are counter-intuitive or go against common sense or wisdom?” One of the most popular answers came from Quora contributor and former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong.
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By Yishan Wong
Here’s one that goes against a lot of conventional wisdom:
Money CAN buy happiness.
It’s often said that money can’t buy happiness, but this is not true. It’s merely true that:
1. Chasing more and more money is not a route to happiness. You shouldn’t try specifically to acquire more money in the hopes that it will make you happy but rather, once you have money, think carefully about how you can use it to increase your happiness.
2. Using money to buy the wrong things (often: things which are popular, things which other people desire, things which require much manual upkeep or worry – see #3) does not result in happiness.
3. People often use money to buy things which they then spend time worrying about, rather than purchasing things which allow them to worry less.
Rather, one should view money merely as a medium by which you exchange your own effort for products and services which you truly want and which make you happier. As you get on in life, you will eventually begin to make more money (while you are young, learn to enjoy the parts of life which do not require money – e.g. building relationships). Focus on spending this money in ways that improve your happiness and reduce your stress levels, and be cautious about using it to buy things that other people say you “should” buy.
Here are some ways which may be specific to me, but could also apply broadly. You shouldn’t try to apply all of them; it’s just that when you come into some money, try doing one or two of them as they appeal to you:
1. Buy a nice bed.
Buy a very nice mattress and high-thread-count sheets. You will need to test out a variety of mattresses to find the one that fits you best but if you find the right one, it will greatly enhance the quality of your sleep, and subsequently, your waking life. You spend 33% of your life here as well and a mattress and sheets are often used for many years, so it is financially sensible to optimize in this area.
2. Improve your commute by living closer to work.
Studies on happiness indicate that people are least happy when commuting. The best way to optimize this is to commute as little as possible. This may mean spending more money to rent or buy a place closer to your place of business (assuming you don’t already work from home), where rents are often higher. In my life, I have consistently paid higher rents in order to live close to where I work and it has always been worth every penny – not only in time saved (which is straight-up savings), but in eliminating commuting fatigue, dodging traffic frustration, reducing the impact of scheduling glitches, etc. If you live close enough to walk a few blocks to work, this is usually ideal.
3. Improve your commute by buying a nice car.
If you must commute, spend the money on buying the right car for you. This might not be a fancy sports car or a luxury sedan, but it should be a car that is pleasantly suited to your personal style, whether that means an exciting drive, a pleasant interior, a premium sound system, a convertible, or something else. There are a great variety of cars designed for different demographics and personalities, so explore outside your habitual brand (you might have started life, as many do, with an econobox sedan) and see if there’s something that fits you more personally. Again: avoid popular sentiment.
4. Fix your computing experience.
You probably spend a lot of time on the computer. If it’s slow or you have a frustrating problem that you’ve “learned to live with,” get this problem fixed. People often underestimate the importance of their holistic user experience on a computer. Personally, I recommend getting a Mac, but this is not for everyone. Either way, if there is a way you can spend money to eliminate glitches in your everyday computing experience, do it. Maybe you need to get a new laptop but have convinced yourself that it would be a frivolous expenditure – after all, the old one works “well enough.” No, it doesn’t. You use it for hours a day and it should be a perfect machine for you. Get it fixed or get a new one – you can always give away or sell the old one at a steep discount to someone else who will be overjoyed to have it. It will get rid of little stressors and allow you to concentrate your mind more fully on the experience of consuming and exchanging information, rather than the mechanics of it.
5. Create a “life randomly screwed me over” self-insurance fund.
Every so often, random things that happen which aren’t anyone’s fault will strike you, causing perhaps a couple weeks worth of worry and headache. For example, your car may develop a problem that takes several hundred dollars to fix. No one broke it; it just happened due to normal wear and tear, and because your insurance has a deductible, you will have to pay out of pocket and now your cash flow for the month is severely screwed up. Create an insurance fund for yourself, and put some money in it every month. What this fund is used for is circumstances where you have to contend with a problem and if you just had some money it would go away. Sometimes random problems can be made to go away if you just throw money at them, and this fund will allow you to do that.
6. Overtip everywhere you go.
Usually, the only way to be treated like royalty at restaurants and service establishments is to be a celebrity (or royalty). The other way is to be the person known for tipping well. Especially at places you frequent often, make a point of tipping extremely well – at least in the 20 – 25% range or more (especially for small-dollar amounts, where you can tip high percentages without spending a large absolute amount). The idea is to stand out as the person who tips significantly better than all the other customers. The employees there will get to know you astoundingly quickly, they will memorize your preferences, they will learn your name (even if it is a weird ethnic one), they will ask after your health, and they will make a point of asking if there is anything extra that you’d like (and sometimes comp you stuff) and generally go to great, polite lengths to make sure you are happy. You will feel like a celebrity and when you bring your friends, it will impress them that the proprietor knows you and treats you so well. Real celebrities don’t really come around that often (unless you’re living in L.A.), so you will end up being the special customer they lavish all their attention on – the local high-roller. Especially if you aren’t actually rich, you are just choosing to be a great tipper, it will make you seem like a really great person. All of this extraordinary service can be had by simply voluntarily marking up your own bill by 10% over the usual cost. Did you get a raise? If so, don’t go eating at a nicer restaurant, stay at the same restaurant you’ve enjoyed all along, and just pay more for better service.
7. Entertainment centers.
This one is highly dependent on individual tastes. Do you like movies? Video games? Listening to music? All of these experiences can be improved by judiciously upgrading your entertainment center, and the cost of doing so drops every year. In our case, we found that purchasing a high-definition home projector system was cheaper than getting a larger television (i.e. larger than 37″) – and this was 5 years ago; the price curves have improved even more since then. One of the biggest mistakes that people do is buying large televisions, when HD projector systems now cost significantly less (sometimes by an order of magnitude) – let me reiterate: buying big televisions is the popular mistake that lots of people make; getting a projector system is not. In our case, this has made every single movie, video game, and television experience akin to being in a movie theater, except that it’s now all on demand and we don’t have to ever deal with other movie theater patrons and can pause things to go to the bathroom without missing crucial action. We never go to movie theaters (thus avoiding lines and schedules), video games are a wholly immersive experience, and best of all, it makes for a great social experience when friends are over because anyone can see the screen from any position in the room. It’s not something you can fully understand until you have one, and it doesn’t get old.
8. Travel to see friends and family.
If you’re part of the new modern mobile generation, your family is probably spread out, and if you’re post-college, your friends are probably now scattered around the nation/world. Studies show that the keys to happiness are a healthy network of friends and family, so if you’ve been putting off that trip to see them (like you usually wait until the holidays), cash in some vacation days and go take an extra trip now instead. They’ll be happy to see you.
9. Learn to cook a couple favorite meals, and use premium ingredients.
The “learn to cook” part doesn’t actually spend more money; it’s often much cheaper than going out to eat. However, the idea here is to pick a single dish that you really like, and learn to cook just that dish, and cook it over and over and over again. Once you start to get good at it, start spending money to buy the absolute top-end premium ingredients. Practiced over years, this will result you being able to provide yourself with your own favorite meal, tuned exactly to your tastes, and produced at an exceptionally high level with the finest ingredients you are able to procure. In my case, this turned out to be steak. A friend and I began cooking this something like 7 years ago, successively learning better and better methods of grilling it. At first it was just a cheap way to eat steak often, until our grilling ability advanced to the point where the quality of meat became the limiting factor, so we began purchasing very high-end cuts and now we are able to consistently produce steak that rivals or exceeds that of the most expensive steak restaurants I’ve ever been to (back then, we’d go to nice steak restaurants but within the last couple of years we’ve just stopped, because I can’t stand to eat steak that’s worse than what I can make myself while paying a premium for it). I still wouldn’t say that I’m someone who “can cook,” but I can make this one meal that I love and when I do, I can comfortably know that it’s worthwhile to splurge on the best raw ingredients, because I now have the skill to put them to their best use (I have now extended this ability to 3 or 4 other favored dishes).
According to this research, psychological therapy is “32 times more effective at increasing happiness than having more money.” This implies that if you are suffering from anything at all, even possibly the most trivial of mental ailments (e.g. the lines at the Apple Store are too long), it is probably worth it to spend your money paying for a psychotherapist. I’ve done this, and it is totally true.
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