When Juliana Park started out as a financial planner 13 years ago, she worked with "regular families who were anxious about having enough money for retirement and for their kids' college," she says. "I thought all they needed was a plan to get them there." But as she took on wealthier clients, she learned that "enough" was an elusive goal. "Some of them had millions—and they were still worried!" says Park, who lives in Oakland, CA. "Then it hit me: Abundance is not a function of net worth. You can feel that millions aren't enough, or you can feel satisfied with much less."
This is territory that social scientists have been exploring: the relationship between money and well-being. Studies suggests that once your household income can take care of your families' basic needs, more won't much affect your day-to-day joy. An analysis of Gallup surveys from around the world, for instance, showed that feeling you have enough money to live the life you want has three times the impact on well-being as making an ample income alone. It's that feeling you want, for your emotional and physical health. Here, eight ways to get there.
Don't Compare and Despair.
Studies show that trying to keep up with the Joneses, or spending to impress anybody, actually, can make you feel depressed and anxious. Instead, cultivate gratitude, suggests Park, author of the forthcoming book The Abundance Loop. "It's so easy for us to focus on what we lack that we forget to think, Wait, what resources do I have? What connections?" You may feel a whole lot better off from that perspective, she says.
Choose Adventures Over Things.
"People think material purchases offer better value because they last longer than experiences," says Ryan Howell, Ph.D., director of the Personality and Well-Being Lab at San Francisco State University. "But those who spend their money on experiences are happier." At work is what scientists call hedonic adaptation: Luxury sheets, for example, are delightful when you first buy them, but after a while you get used to them—they just become laundry. Experiences, meanwhile, tend to extend our joy. They often involve bonding with other people; they create sweet memories that we can revisit over and over; they become part of our identity. (You may think of yourself as The Woman Who Drove Cross-Country by Herself, for example, but are less likely to define yourself as The Woman with the 400-Thread-Count Sheets.)
Banish "I Can't Afford It" from Your Money Talk.
In a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, healthy eaters did better avoiding temptation when they changed their language from a self-depriving can't ("I can't have cake") to a self-defining don't ("I don't have cake"). With money, the same switcheroo helps you own—and feel better about—your choices. So rather than "I can't buy it," tell yourself, "I'm putting this money elsewhere."
Sock away Some Security.
Multiple studies agree: Having money in the bank will make you feel happier. Some of the credit, researchers explain, goes to the feeling of control we get when we manage our cash—by budgeting or saving. Your rainy-day fund also protects you by offering a cushion against stress: The Gallup analysis found that eliminating money worries has twice the impact on your overall well-being as actually increasing your income.
Spread the Wealth.
Giving money away to others is good for you, says research from the University of British Columbia and Harvard University. When people were handed sums from $5 to $20 and asked to either keep the cash or spend it on someone else, the givers ended up having a happier day. This "warm glow" of giving is reflected in brain scans: Your reward centers light up when you share your stash.
Focus on Your Take-Home Happiness Pay.
To lead a richer life, prioritize your values and how you want to spend your days over the dollar bills. Our brains tend to lock onto hard numbers—a salary, say—instead of harder-to-quantify qualities like job satisfaction or how much we like our colleagues, studies show. But it's the intangibles, the things that don't show up on your pay stub, that determine how satisfied you'll be day to day.
Avoid The "Debt Ouch."
Think you can feel your blood pressure spike every time you open a hefty credit card bill? That's real. An NIH study found that young adults with debt have worse overall health and higher diastolic blood pressure—which can lead to hypertension and stroke—than those without it. At issue wasn't the amount of the debt; owing even a small sum taxes your body if it overwhelms you (one reason, maybe, why another study linked credit card debt to bad health—but "good debt" like your mortgage generally isn't thought to have that negative effect).
Find Pleasure In Small, Good Things.
Those shifting priorities that you've always heard come with age? They can do wonders for your financial health. A recent study found that while younger people say their happiest experiences were extraordinary ones—a Hawaiian vacation, a Bob Dylan concert, driving an expensive car—older folks got the same lift from less costly everyday pleasures like a good-morning kiss, a growing garden, and a sunlit back porch. Sounds like a rich life to us.
This story originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.