TIME psychology

5 Ways to Spend Your Money That Will Make You Happier

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Yes. But you might be surprised by the ways you should spend it.

Harvard professor Michael Norton and co-author Elizabeth Dunn have a new book out, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, that details the research on the 5 best ways to turn your dollars into lasting smiles. What are they?

1) Buy Experiences

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

“…57 percent of Americans reported that the experiential purchase made them happier than the material purchase, while only 34 percent reported the opposite. This difference was more pronounced among women, young people and those living in cities and suburbs. But the same basic pattern emerged even for men, the elderly, and country dwellers. In study after study, people are in a better mood when they reflect on their experiential purchases, which they describe as “money well spent.”

(For more on the science of being happier and more successful, click here.)

2) Make It A Treat

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

“…knowing you can’t have access to something all the time may help you appreciate it more when you do… When you love a television show — say,The Office — you might think the best way to maximize your happiness is to buy the DVD set and watch all the episodes straight through. Getting rid of the commercials and eliminating the weeklong wait between episodes seems sensible. But research suggests that taking breaks between episodes can increase your enjoyment. Perhaps most amazingly, commercials can improve the experience of watching television. Even entertaining shows can start to drag after five to seven minutes, decreasing our enjoyment. Commercials disrupt that adaptation process, so when the show comes back on, we can fall in love with Jim and Pam all over again.”

(For more on how ancient philosophy can make you happier, click here.)

3) Buy Time

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

People who feel they have plenty of free time are more likely to exercise, do volunteer work, and participate in other activities that are linked to increased happiness. Although money can be used to buy “free time,” in part by outsourcing the demands of daily life such as cooking, cleaning and even grocery shopping, wealthier individuals report elevated levels of time pressure… Wealthier individuals tend to spend more of their time on activities associated with relatively high levels of tension and stress, such as shopping, working and commuting.

(To learn how to stop being lazy and use your time more productively, click here.)

4) Pay Now, Consume Later

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

Delay can enhance the pleasure of consumption not only by providing an opportunity to develop positive expectations, but also by enhancing what we call the “drool factor.” The very best stimulus for studying the drool factor? Chocolate. In a recent experiment, college students chose whether they wanted a Hershey’s Kiss or a Hershey’s Hug. They either ate their chosen chocolate immediately or waited thirty minutes. When students had to wait for their candy, they enjoyed it more and expressed more interest in buying additional Hershey’s chocolates. Even though they didn’t learn anything new about the chocolates, the delay provided an opportunity to build visceral desire, to drool a bit.

(To learn what research says about how millionaires really become millionaires, click here.)

5) Invest In Others

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

“By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.”

(For more on how nice guys can finish first, click here.)

More from Michael Norton’s TEDx talk here:

To learn more check out Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Life in Space? The Odds Just Went Up

A different kind of Europeans: The discolored cracks of the Jovian moon Europa could suggest life
NASA/JPL A different kind of Europeans: The discolored cracks of the Jovian moon Europa could suggest life

A new study reveals new promise on Jupiter's most intriguing moon

If ever there was a time to disobey HAL, the coolly sociopathic computer that stole the show in both 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 2010 sequel, it’s now. At the end of that second movie, the universe unfolds before a group of astronauts exploring the Jupiter system, and as they marvel at it, HAL gives them a simple warning: All these worlds are yours—except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

That’s a rule that’s getting harder not to break. Europa is one of the four large moons of Jupiter, and easily its most compelling. Its entire surface is covered in a thick rind of water ice, with what is almost certainly a deep, globe-girdling ocean of liquid water underneath. Now, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters offers new evidence that the ocean could be home to—or at least hospitable to—extraterrestrial life.

MORE: See The Trailer For TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year In Space

It’s not easy to keep water in a liquid state out in the cosmic provinces where Europa lives. The little world’s surface temperature averages -280º F (-173º C), with the sun little more than a very bright match head 483 million mi. (779 million km) away. But you don’t need sunlight to generate warmth when you’ve got what’s known as tidal flexing.

As Europa circles Jupiter, its large sister moons, Io, Ganymede and Callisto, do the same in their own orbital lanes. The moons periodically pass one another like cars on a race track, and as they do, they tug—and slightly stretch—one another gravitationally. All that flexing generates internal heat, and in Europa’s case, that keeps its ocean liquid and relatively warm.

Multiple space probes and Earthly telescopes have photographed a webwork of cracks all over Europa’s surface, the result of fracturing and refracturing caused by the constant pulsing. When the cracks appear, subsurface water percolates—or even bursts—to the surface. A lot of those cracks turn a dark yellow-brown over time, and that raises intriguing possibilities.

The discoloration is likely caused by the particular chemistry of the water as it is exposed to the harsh radiation of space. But just what that chemistry is was unknown. It could be sulfur, it could be magnesium or it could, tantalizingly, be salt, giving the Europan oceans the same warm, amniotic conditions as Earth’s own.

To test this idea, planetary scientist Kevin Hand and co-author Robert Carlson, both of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., built what they called “Europa in a can.” Starting with both straight sodium chloride—or table salt—and a combination of water and salt, they chilled both test samples down to the same temperature as Europa’s surface and bombarded them with radiation similar to the environment of Jovian space. The radiation bath continued for varying lengths of time—all on the order of tens of hours. Direct radiation for that long, Hand and Carlson calculated, was the equivalent of about a century’s worth of the more diffuse radiation of space.

Over time, the samples did what the researchers suspected they’d do, which was turn precisely the yellow-brown color of the Europan fractures—with longer radiation exposure producing darker shades. But since human eyeballs are not the most precise ways to measure such things, the researchers also compared the electromagnetic spectra of their lab samples to the spectra of the Europa cracks, taken from images captured by NASA’s Galileo Jupiter probe. The two lined up perfectly.

“This work tells us the chemical signature of radiaton-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa’s mystery material,” said Hand in a statement that accompanied the release of the study.

None of this means Europa is home to life, but it goes a long way to making the case that its environment is right for it—a critical first step. Before too long, the mystery may be probed from close up. Last year, the White House included a request for $30 million to study a mission to Europa, as part of NASA’s fiscal 2016 budget.

The plan would involve sending an unmanned probe to orbit Jupiter and make perhaps 45 flybys of Europa, during which it would remotely study the moon’s anatomy and chemistry, and perhaps fly through some of the plumes of water vapor that erupt from its fractures, analyzing their composition. Last February, JPL held a workshop to conduct preliminary planning for the mission and polled planetary scientists around the world to ask what instruments they think should be included on the spacecraft.

The Jupiter trip, if it’s green-lit at all, won’t happen soon. The earliest a Europa probe would probably launch would be 2022, arriving at the Jovian system sometime around 2030. But Europa has time. It’s been there, like Earth, for more than four billion years. If, like Earth too, the moon has incubated life over those long epochs, it’ll still be waiting for us when we arrive.

TIME psychology

This Is the Key to Happiness, According to Psychotherapists

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

The story you tell yourself about your life.

When your vision of your life story is inadequate, depression can result.

Psychotherapists actually help “rewrite” that story and this process is as, if not more, effective than medication.

Via The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human:

According to the psychologist Michele Crossley, depression frequently stems from an “incoherent story,” an “inadequate narrative account of oneself,” or “a life story gone awry.” Psychotherapy helps unhappy people set their life stories straight; it literally gives them a story they can live with. And it works. According to a recent review article in American Psychologist, controlled scientific studies show that the talking cure works as well as (and perhaps much better than) newer therapies such as antidepressant drugs or cognitive-behavioral therapy. A psychotherapist can therefore be seen as a kind of script doctor who helps patients revise their life stories so that they can play the role of protagonists again— suffering and flawed protagonists, to be sure, but protagonists who are moving toward the light.

What other effects do stories have on your life?

Stories bring meaning

Stories can help you add meaning to your life. Reflect on the different ways your life could have gone, and the possible “life stories” that could have resulted. Believing that the way things did work out was “meant to be” and appreciating the benefits of that journey can both add a deeper feeling of meaning to your life.

This same reasoning is why some people believe in fate. Feeling that things were “meant to be” and that there is meaning in tragedy allows people to cope

Watching tragic movies and plays is enjoyable because it makes us feel gratitude that our lives, by comparison, are not that bad.

Stories give meaning to groups too

Any group must have a story as well. This is what creates team morale. Groups that take a second to think about a world without them, to think of the good they bring not existing, develop a greater commitment and passion for their cause.

Stories clarify our future goals

Want to quickly find out what is really important to you? Imagine your funeral. What stories do you want others to tell about your life? Now go make those stories true.

A bad story can be dangerous

As in the first example where a problematic vision of your life can trigger depression, the wrong stories can have a negative effect on your life.

Stories warp our vision of the world. Fundamentally, our brains may not be able to tell the difference between the real and the story.

This can be good — it can increase empathy and make us kinder to others. Or it can be bad:

In Appel’s study, people who mainly watched drama and comedy on TV — as opposed to heavy viewers of news programs and documentaries — had substantially stronger “just-world” beliefs. Appel concludes that fiction, by constantly exposing us to the theme of poetic justice, may be partly responsible for the sense that the world is, on the whole, a just place.

This is despite the fact, as Appel puts it, “that this is patently not the case.” As people who watch the news know very well, bad things happen to good people all the time, and most crimes go unpunished. In other words, fiction seems to teach us to see the world through rose-colored lenses. And the fact that we see the world that way seems to be an important part of what makes human societies work.

We become like the fictional characters we watch. We must be careful what stories we take in and believe.

Stories can help us change ourselves

Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, has talked about how personally story-editing our lives can lead us to not only feel better, but also reinvent ourselves:

The idea is that if we want to change people’s behaviors, we need to try to get inside their heads and understand how they see the world—the stories and narratives they tell themselves about who they are and why they do what they do…As Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” People who do volunteer work, for example, often change their narratives of who they are, coming to view themselves as caring, helpful people. Well-designed studies have shown that teen girls who participate in community service programs do better in school and are less likely to become pregnant.

You must have a story

So you must have a story that you tell yourself about your life and it must be a good one. To assemble one or fix the one you have:

  • Explore story-editing if your vision of life doesn’t seem to fit.

Join over 180,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Taxes

Is Your Tax Refund Too Big?

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William Howell—iStock

Getting a big check from the IRS is exciting, but it might not be the best for your long-term financial health.

Taxpayers getting back money from the government this year have received an average refund of $2,893 so far, according to March 26 data from the Internal Revenue Service. That’s a nice bump up in cash flow, and a lot of people look forward to it as a chance to splurge, pay down debt or add to their savings.

But those people could have had that money all year, had they withheld less of their paycheck. Getting a big refund means you essentially gave the government an interest-free loan, when you could have put the money in a savings or retirement account to earn interest. You may see that money as a windfall, but you should really see it as the government making good on a year-long IOU.

There’s no right or wrong answer to how much of a refund you should aim to get, because it’s very much a matter of personal preference, and it can also be tricky to estimate. No matter how you choose to deal with your taxes, it’s worthwhile to regularly evaluate your withholdings. Here’s why.

Your Life Changes

About 82% of taxpayers receive refunds, but even if you’ve consistently gotten one, a significant life change may affect how much you receive or if you get one at all. Marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, or a drastic income change should trigger a review of how much you have withheld from your paycheck.

You Should Look for Patterns

Beyond re-evaluating your tax situation in the wake of a noteworthy life event, your tax-filing history will give you a good idea of when you should consider changing how much is withheld from your paycheck. It can be a difficult thing to estimate, because as much as you want may want to avoid owing the Internal Revenue Service in April, getting too much in return may not be the best for your long-term financial health.

“A good place to be is owing a little bit or getting a little bit back,” said Elliott Freirich, a certified public accountant in Chicago. But where exactly is that “good place”? “There’s no right answer. It’s a gray area, but I would tell people if they could kind of keep (their refund) under $1,000. … It’s not like it would go away and they would never have it if they reduce their withholding.”

Know Your Own Saving/Spending Habits

Some people feel that way — that they wouldn’t be disciplined enough to set aside the money they would otherwise get from a large refund.

“It’s sort of like forced savings,” said Jorie Johnson, a certified financial planner in New Jersey. She said she suggests her clients re-evaluate their withholding if their refund exceeds $5,000. “I encourage them to use half of their refund toward their IRA, if they haven’t already maxed it out, and the other half on themselves, as a reward — that’s assuming they don’t have any debt.”

Consider the big picture: Do you look forward to a large tax refund but struggle to meet your savings goals on a monthly basis? If you’re trying to work your way out of debt or regularly find yourself financing your lifestyle while also getting a large refund check every tax season, that’s a sign you need to revisit your withholding (you might need to re-evaluate your spending habits, too).

Remember that withholding is just an estimate of what you’ll owe, and it may take you a few years of consistent tax outcomes to confidently adjust that estimate to meet your tax needs without owing or receiving a large sum come tax time.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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