Synergistic Spending for Compounded Happiness Returns

Increased income can help us with increased happiness if we understand how to apply the nuances of the evidence to our own lives. We have also examined how to avoid getting trapped by trying to out-earn a spending problem and strategies to avoid doing a lip-skid on the hedonic treadmill. That mindfulness to shift us away from bad spending habits is helpful. However, we also need to shift towards productive spending.

Learn how to spend your time and money on what is most likely to improve lasting happiness and life satisfaction. You have probably already heard to spend on experiences instead of stuff, but there is actually much more to it than that. Compound the return on your spending by doing it synergistically.

money happiness

Spend time on unplugged relationships.

Spending your human capital (time/effort/comfort/security) to develop your social capital is integral to building holistic wealth. There is no other way to develop and nurture your social relationships.

A healthy real-life social network is related to happiness.

There is evidence to support this assertation. For example, happiness survey data spanning over 35 years found that those with 5 or more close friends are 50% more likely to be “very happy”. Social media has made the time and effort expenditure less per friend. However, online friends do not have the same impact on happiness that unplugged relationships do.

Many relationships are time sensitive, and you don’t get that time back.

Your kids grow up and your influence over them wanes. Your parents will age and eventually die. Friends and siblings are the same. There is an expiry date for your relationships with all of these people. Strong relationships are built and maintained over time. It is much more difficult to try and re-establish them later when you have all grown off in different directions without some relationship maintenance along the way. Money is not a substitute for time.

Invest in your marriage. Pay if you don’t.

In the previously mentioned longitudinal study of happiness, 40% of people in a marriage were very happy compared to 25% in the population of never-married people. Marriage to the right person at the right time can be one of the best things that we can do for our long-term happiness. Not only can it make us happier, but we may also live a longer and more active life. However, marriage is a high stakes maneuver. Unhappily married people were also the most unhappy of anyone. Choose your spouse wisely or don’t get married.

Some call marriage a trap. Sacrificing a marriage to earn more is a bigger trap.

Not only is marital deterioration emotionally destructive, but it is also financially destructive. Tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees is just the tip of the iceberg. Your net worth is usually cut in half.

If divorce is the best option to move forward, here is a divorce survival guide for high-income professionals written by a US physician who went through it. For a high-income professional, it can close the jaws of the earning-spending trap.

Divorce is a potent variation of the earning-spending trap for high-income professionals.

Imagine that you work all-out at your career. You earn lots of money and have built a successful practice, but it has taken its toll. You are burnt-out and your absence from home plus the emotional baggage that you bring home contributes to a marital break-down.

Now, you have to continue working to earn that income because it is what your spousal support will be based off of. You should cut back, but you are trapped. If this event opens your eyes to reduce your workload and income, then you would still likely need to go back to court to alter your support payments.

Spend money to help your relationships.

One of the major lessons that I have learned from my patients is that it is more important to give your family and friends your time than stuff. On your deathbed, they will tell stories about the great things you did together. Not the car that you bought them. That said, we can spend money strategically to bolster relationships.

15 feet of pager-mowing power.

Money is simply a convenient tool to exchange time and money. You can use that tool to build your relationships by buying time that can then be spent on them. You can outsource tasks, such as hiring a house cleaner. Perhaps, purchasing time-saving devices can also help you buy back some time.

One of my best time-saving money spends was buying a bigger lawn mower back when I had a 10-acre lawn. Plus, there is something soothing about riding a big diesel machine. I even accidentally dropped and mowed over my pager a couple of times. Strangely satisfying and worth the cost of replacement.

Your time has value, and it may be more than the cost of spending some money on lower-skill tasks that you don’t enjoy. You can boost the value of your time by finding synergies. One synergistic way to spend money to nurture relationships is by spending it on shared experiences.

“Spending on Experiences” Changes with Experience

Good memories outlast even the highest quality stuff. Further, we more readily adapt to stuff because it remains physically present. We get used to it. However, each experience is one and done. It maintains its novelty. That generally means less hedonic adaptation. That said, the reality is that we adapt to “experiences” too, if we repeat them frequently enough.

Experiences that age well.

When we are younger, pretty much everything is novel. The more that we spend our time and money on experiences, the fewer novelties there are. Additionally, how we experience happiness as we age changes. What we equate with happiness shifts from feelings of excitement to feelings of contentment. That may be partially why the types of experiences that bring us the most lasting happiness changes as we age.

In alignment with the above factors, younger people value experiences that are novel, exciting, and extra-ordinary. These experiences represent ways of defining themselves and hitting major milestones. In contrast, as people age, common everyday experiences that bring them contentment become increasingly valued. Ordinary activities that are important to them. Of course, this is personal. However, an awareness may help you to detect shifts in what makes you happy as you age and then alter your spending accordingly.

The buying experience.

We can also turn “buying stuff” into an experience. Rather than making impulsive buying decisions, if we are going to intentionally buy something, then the research and shopping can be a part of the experience. The larger the purchase, the more important it is to extend and savor the buying experience. It also reduces the risk of buyer’s remorse from a hasty decision.

Besides the joy of the moment, experiences give us lasting happiness because we can relive them through memory. That is compounded when they are shared memories with other people that we build relationships with. Reminiscing together adds a further social aspect. Spending on experiences can also be synergistic when they help improve our fitness, knowledge, and skills.

Spend synergistically on physical and mental fitness.

Exercise strongly impacts your happiness.

Exercise not only builds and maintains your physical health. Physical activity is also a key contributor to your mental health. Exercise gives an immediate hit of all those happy brain chemicals, but regular exercise may also be associated with structural changes in the pleasure-pain neuropathways.

You may need to spend some money on equipment, instruction, or memberships.

They can make it more enjoyable or more convenient to get some exercise. For example, I spent my first attending paycheck on a fully equipped high quality home gym. My previous Kijiji-gym was a pain to use, and my wife was always afraid that something might break and crush me. I could never muster the time and energy to go a fitness club. Fifteen years later, I can still say that it was money well spent. I don’t lift as much anymore, but I also crush easier.

Spending on instruction and a club membership can yield multiple advantages.

It brings happiness through exercise, self-improvement, and a social aspect. It can also help a professional with competing interests to have some outside accountability for self-care. Karate helped me to kick work-life imbalance’s ass. Find your own “karate”.

Throw some fresh air and natural surroundings into the mix.

You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money to get exercise. The great outdoors are generally free or low cost. The benefits of spending time in a natural setting are many: increased happiness, attention span, empathy, co-operation, and better physical health. Add a dog into the mix and there is even that accountability-kick-in-the-butt that many of us need to get out. Three dogs = triple accountability.

buy happiness

Invest in skill development & spend time in “flow”.

Learning new skills helps you through multiple mechanisms.

Learning, challenging yourself, and growing in new directions helps you to thrive and improve your happiness. Developing expertise can also open up more opportunities for you. That gives you more power to determine your own path. The confidence gained through new competencies is even associated with improved interpersonal relationships. Additionally, broadening your perspective also increases resilience, happiness, and may attenuate burn-out.

Learn with others to help current-you and future-you.

Developing interests and social networks outside of your profession not only improves your current opportunities and happiness. It can help you in the future when you want to retire to something. Spending time around people who have more “average” income levels may also improve happiness.

Learning new skills can even save you money.

If you learn to do something yourself, not only do you save on the cost. You gain the satisfaction and self-confidence that comes with self-sufficiency. Take on a DIY project with friends or family to really boost your social capital at the same time.

Find “flow” with new skills to achieve goals and boost happiness along the way.
spending satisfaction

You find a “flow” state when performing a task that absorbs your attention and requires some skill at a level suited to you. The task is intrinsically rewarding, but you are also working towards a goal.

This could be a professional task, physical task, or even a mental one. Have you ever been so absorbed in doing something that you enjoy and are good at that you lose track of time? That is flow.

A flow state gives us joy and happiness. The good news is that the more skills that we develop, the more opportunities that we have to find flow in different ways. Also, the better we get at something, the more of challenge we need to keep us in the flow zone with that activity. Finding flow is not static and promotes a perpetual cycle for self-improvement.

Synergize how you spend your time and money for happiness.

buying happiness

Spending your time and money on relationships, experiences, physical activity, and learning and applying skills can all help you to achieve a more satisfied and happy state. Since you have limited time and money, finding ways to spend them that also check multiple of the above boxes simultaneously, increases the return on your investment.

If you want to super-charge the happiness-return, find a synergistic activity and couple it with giving. Giving, or prosocial behavior, yields such a strong return on investment, that the next post is dedicated to exploring it. Giving effectively is an essential financial skill.

Spending the time and money with my neighbor to learn and build a treehouse for the neighborhood kids was a synergistic investment of a few thousand dollars and a week of time for me. Skills, relationships, outdoor time, exercise, happy wife/kids/dogs, and “flow” along the way.

What would be some great ways to synergistically spend for your happiness? Comment below.


  1. After reading this post twice, a few weeks ago, I was not sure if and how to provide my 0.02$ worth of comment but here I am…. No doubt this is another post, jam-packed with actionable information. Most of your posts do a great job of translating illegible Klingon into plain English with help of easy-to-follow visuals but the current post is … Please bare with me while I make my loooong point.

    I am sure you know that you are a polymath, good at a few things that we can see from your writing and I am sure many more that can only be gleaned by extended in-person contact that I don’t have the fortune of. You are great at many things (the greatness might vary), a great(++) parent, a medical doctor, great(++) at Financial planning, (great++) in tax matters, running a CCPC, Computer Programming, Handymanship, (great++) in analytical and critical thinking etc. Some of these skills are interconnected, for example, a great analytical and critical thinker can become a great parent when those skills are diligently applied in parenting.

    For most ordinary souls like me, being good at one thing consumes most of our time, energy, and attention.

    And my point is that a post that is so packed with great ideas might create indigestion for most souls (at least it did to me :)). an information overload. You are not asking us to consume and digest this information in one seating but let us be honest, how many people will be able to retain what is written in such a condensed post and apply it in a short time or (remember/plan to) revisit it? I did put myself a reminder. Honest point number two, even though some of the points are applicable to me and it is time I act, how many I will be able to really act on in due time? I have my doubts.

    The writers I follow, write for many reasons, as a journal for themselves, as a future roadmap for their children, and for their friends and followers. If your target audience is people other than yourself, you need to see if you are not meeting their needs. I don’t know who your audience is composed of, but if I am a typical sample, I am afraid some of your posts are a bit too dense on intellectual calories!!

    1. Thanks PD for your valuable feedback. These posts are definitely jam-packed and too much to take in with one reading.

      I have been actually trying to build them as hub articles. A comprehensive overview to pull a topic together with links to the best evidence. Definitely more in-depth and often technical/intellectual than the average blog post. That generally appeals to the physician/dentist/vet/lawyer-type crowd that I originally started writing for. That is because it is how we train. We come back to the same “cornerstone” articles/topics repeatedly over time and take something different away each time. The first time usually leaves some brain-matter on our screens and tweaks us to realize that there are multiple layers to a topic. For example, with this article, the usual finance blog says “buy experiences, not stuff” with some good stories or narrative to illustrate. End of article. However, there are many aspects to what experiences are best, and even sometimes stuff (like my exercise equipment) is good too. It is impossible to get it all in one (or two) sittings.

      My intent is to use these “hubs articles” to make “spoke articles” that take on smaller digestible chunks of each topic in a narrative/story fashion. Those spoke articles would be more digestible and hopefully stimulate a look back at the hub with fresh eyes having spent more time on one aspect. I started doing that in The Loonie Bin section and will come back there. I do write these hub articles partly for myself, as much as everyone else. It gives me a framework to be more organized when I build out “the spokes” and make sure that they come together. I am trying to be more deliberate as I build out the blog this time (my first go at it – I jumped all over the place) and you’ve given me something to think about.

      1. Thanks LD for explaining hub-spoke model of this article and in general model of your blog v2.0. Now it all makes sense!

        1. Thanks PD. This balance is something to always to keep in mind. I find it quite challenging, and it is going to take a few years to get the grand design fleshed out. I am going to change the name of my “Basic Curriculum” section to “Core Curriculum” because it is vital, but not always basic. I hope you’ll stick with me along the way.

  2. I love this post! And all of your posts about the connection between money and happiness! Thank you so much for talking about this crucial aspect of “wealth”. I’m reading about the science of well-being, happiness studies, flow, flourishing, mindfulness, Buddhist philsophy, and mindset. All of which aligns with your happiness posts.

    Thank you so much for getting the word out about this topic because what we have learned in our culture about what brings happiness, does not align with what evidence shows will truly bring us the contentment and fulillment we are searching. Focusing on social connection, gratitude, acts of kindness, “enough”, mindfulness, healthy habits, meaning/purpose, time affluence, connecting to nature, and engagement in activities where we lose track of time are not what most of us prioritize although evidence shows these are the things that truly do bring lasting fulfillment and well-being. I love that you are talking about these things!

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