We hear a lot that money doesn't buy happiness. But if that's true, it's probably because people are spending big chunks of it on things that we get used to: cars, furniture, clothes. Happiness is always a battle against the, a phenomenon that means spending more on things in order to maintain the same level of satisfaction.
But experiences are harder to get used to than things, because they are always different. And as I've found by spending the past two years researching money happiness (for my book, "All the Money in the World," which is out today), certain realities about human nature mean that we can get a lot of happiness bang for our buck, if we spend wisely.
So what do the happiest people do on their lunch hour?
They treat a friend to lunch. Preferably, a lunch they've planned well ahead of time.
Here's why. Planned pleasant experiences give you a triple happiness whammy. You anticipate them beforehand -- and as any kid waiting for Christmas knows, anticipation is often as pleasurable as the experience itself. You live through your adventures, and then you savor the memory afterwards. Eating is, of course, one of the most pleasurable things people do. In one study in which women reported how happy they were at different points of the day, eating ranked just below sex.
As for treating a friend? Humans are social creatures, and socializing scores about the same as eating on the happiness scale. Spending money on other people (in the form of gifts or charity) is also one of the few things that is strongly correlated with happiness.
Plus, if you treat, your friend will probably reciprocate. And that means you get to have your fun twice!
All in all, that's a lot of happiness for less than $25 (if you choose the right restaurant).
When's the last time you treated someone to lunch?
Photo courtesy of Flickr user zoetnet.