Three things you can buy that are guaranteed to make you happier.

Anyone who thinks money can’t buy happiness might just be spending theirs on the wrong stuff.

So says Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, whose research into the science of shopping led him to co-author a book on the subject.

It’s been four years since Happy Money was released and Norton, who was in Sydney for a conference recently, is still spruiking his message that buying certain things really can bolster your happiness bottom line.

“Every world religion and every self-help book says money can’t buy happiness,” he said during a talk for AMP’s Amplify event earlier this month.

Yep, money can buy you happiness. You just have to spend it wisely, Source: Getty

"It's kinda right, and kinda wrong. The typical ways we spend our money don't pay off in much happiness, but there are other ways to use our money that do pay off. If you think money can't buy happiness, it just means you're not spending it right."

According to Fairfax journalist Caitlin Fitzsimmons, who attended the event, Norton explained to the room why winning the lottery is no guarantee of lifelong contentment and many people actually feel hollow after a big win.

"It's not that it makes you unhappy but it … has no effect on your happiness, not bad, not good, just nothingness," he said.

In other words, by opting to buy things for yourself, like a new house, a new boat or a new car - as most do - you won't actually make yourself any less miserable. In fact, the link between materialism and social isolation is well-established.

In 2013, scientists uncovered a so-called "loneliness loop", whereby people shop to cheer themselves up but unwittingly make themselves more depressed causing them to, you guessed it, shop more.

So how is it Norton can argue that buying things can make you happier? Well, it's about what you're buying - and who you're buying it for.


The first thing he suggests is splashing out on experiences, like going on a holiday instead of buying that big screen television you've been eyeing off.

In most cases, planning your trip will make you excited, but waiting for your TV to arrive is more likely to end in frustration.

A good book might be a better investment than you think. Source: iStock

Likewise, the holiday itself will be more enjoyable than sitting in your dark living room staring at a screen and, in the long term, you're more likely to value your memories than the rapidly dating electronic device in your living room.

Other experiential purchases include things like a good book or a bicycle, which can provide ongoing enjoyment.

The second thing Norton suggests to buy is time.

For example, hiring someone to do odd jobs around the house will give you more time for the things you love.

LISTEN: Canna Campbell shares her top tips for women to get empowered about their money (post continues)...

The final thing you can buy that's guaranteed to make you happier isn't for you at all.

Norton cited an experiment carried out in Canada and Uganda in which people were given the equivalent of $5 or $20 with a note instructing them to spend the money on themselves or someone else by the end of the day.

What they bought for others varied across the two countries but the results were always the same.

No matter the amount of money, those who gave something away invariably felt better than those who bought something for themselves.

It might be something to think about next payday.