WASHINGTON Happiness has been much in the media lately. Academics have been looking at what makes people happy and have discovered that it isn't as unrelated to money as poets and songwriters would have you think. Some money, used well, can buy some happiness. But only to a point. It still can't buy you love.
Having more money makes you happier if you start out poor, and get enough more money to make you middle class. At that level, it can protect you from having to worry about hunger and security.
But once you have enough money to make your basic needs, more money doesn't necessarily buy more happiness. It may only buy social isolation, responsibilities and headaches. Just ask one of those sad, lonely and bankrupt lottery winners that pop up in the news from time to time.
In fact, the relationship between money and happiness is very complicated, according to Ed Diener, a psychologist and expert with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. People in wealthy nations tend to be happier than those in poorer nations, but people who value money too highly tend to be less happy than others, he says.
It's a tricky balance: Having some money can definitely help you get happy, but caring about it too much can backfire. Here are some ways to use your personal wealth to make your life more satisfying.
* Spend it on job training. Folks who have jobs they feel good about; that make them feel competent and that bring them some social standing and a decent salary, are happier than those who have jobs that make them miserable. Duh! Spending cash on skills that can get you a better job, and generally more employable, is one way to buy happiness.
* Spend it on friends and family. The factor that correlates most closely with happiness is satisfying relationships. People who have friends and see them often and who have good relationships with their relatives are happy. So, spend money traveling to see those who are far away; taking vacations together, on parties and holiday celebrations and occasionally on picking up the tab for your good buddies. You can't buy friendship, of course, but putting some cash behind the friendships you already have is a good thing. * Buy sporting goods. Exercise raises happiness in many ways, according to the experts. There's the well-documented effect of raised endorphins, those brain chemicals that make you feel good. But there's also increased fitness that can make you feel better physically, and that feeling of competency. Exercising with others, on a team, or in a tennis game, or even in a class, can be more satisfying than solo exercise, especially as you practice and get better and better at it.
* Skip the big screen TV and buy tools or toys. Over time, people are happier when they are doing something; playing guitar in a band or playing chess with a friend, or building models with their kids, than they are when they are being passively entertained. Relaxation is good, but hobbies are better.
* Give it away. People who give money to charity are happier than those that don't, according to Arthur C. Brooks, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University. That may be because they feel more in control, or as if they are personally helping to solve society's problems. Maybe it just makes them feel good about themselves.
* Pay your bills. There are few buzz kills more potent than a drawer full of maxed-out credit cards. Having big debts hurts your potential for happiness now and later, so focus on doing what it takes to pay off those balances. Knowing your don't owe anyone anything may not be defined as "happiness" but it feels great.
* Get more money. Money may not be able to buy happiness, but weirdly, happiness seems to lead to more money. People who are outgoing, optimistic, skilled and feel good about themselves (the happy people) tend to make more money, say the social scientists. It's worth a try, right?