Synthetic Happiness And Money


Every once in a while, I find myself turning on the Xbox, going to YouTube and watching a TED Talk or two. This morning, was one of those mornings. All of the talks I’ve seen have been interesting to say the least, but today’s talk, WOW! What a way to think of things. If you want to watch it, it’s the YouTube video to the left or click here. Anyway, inspired by this video, I started to think…”I’ll bet our happiness financially works the same way. Do we build synthetic happiness around our finances?”

Testing The Synthetic Financial Happiness Theory

OK, so I’m not going to go to random people and ask them detailed information about their financial positions. Instead, I’ll think back to my first checking account. When I got my first checking account, I was incredibly happy. I didn’t earn interest, I didn’t have the option to get pretty checks without paying for them, but I was ecstatic to have a checking account. I didn’t have any choice, I was stuck with one option, and I was happy!

Now, let’s fast forward to today. When it comes to personal banking accounts, I’ve got all the options in the world. There’s no reason I’d be turned down for anything I wanted. Today, I have a checking account that earns interest. I also have my own personal bank checks with a design that I picked out. Here’s the funny part. At least once a month, I find myself looking for bigger and better checking account options. As a matter of fact, today I found myself looking at EverBank personal banking rates because I heard of a guarantee to be in the top 5% of earned interest on money market accounts.

The Theory Goes Beyond Checking Accounts

Let’s think of this in other ways. Let’s think of how much extra money we have to spend on a monthly basis. For me personally, I burn through a few hundred bucks a month on things like eating out, beer, outdoor activities, and more. And you know what, I’m happy. Then again, if I think of people who are less fortunate, I generally think that they are less happy. However, if the synthetic happiness theory is correct, they are just as happy as I am, even if they can’t afford to go eat at Applebee’s twice a month.

So, I started To Think…Can I Turn Synthetic Happiness On?

Wouldn’t it be cool if I could flip a switch and turn synthetic happiness on, even while I have choices? If so, wouldn’t that be an amazing financial tool? What if I could grin and bear not having as much monthly play money? Instead of spending the money, I could save it and create a better future for my family…and still be happy!

Let The Trials Begin

I’m going to perform another test. As a result of this test, we’re going to find out if you can flip a switch and be synthetically happy, or if you actually have to be unhappy to build synthetic happiness. Well, at least on a financial level. Here’s how my test is going to work.


  1. Monthly Play Spending Limit – On average I spend anywhere from $350 to $400 on fun a month. Instead, I’m going to limit my spending capabilities to $200 per month.
  2. Test Duration – The test is going to last 3 months. This is because after 2 months, having less money will become habitual. The 3rd month will show how happy I really am having less to spend.
  3. Where The Extra Money Goes – Instead of spending the extra $200 I have available, I’m going to invest it into my Scottrade account.
  4. Monthly Reports – Every month, I’ll share my level of happiness with you. I’ll be crucially honest so that we don’t disrupt the test.

This Month’s Report

This month I spent like I normally do. As normal, I’m a pretty happy guy! I’ve got nothing to complain about at the moment, I’ll check in with you next month to see how I feel after forcing myself to spend less!

Take Part In The Challenge!

I’d love to have a few strong-willed people take up the challenge with me. Who knows, maybe you can even share your experiences in monthly updates on my blog! Are you with me, if so, let me know in the comments below!

A Big Thanks To These Resources

White Paper On Happiness

Sources of Insight

TED Talks

Unrelated Fun Reads

I’ve decided to add a new section to each of my posts. I love reading personal finance blogs, and if you’re here, you probably do to. So, from now on, I’ll be including a couple posts that were great to read the on other blogs at the end of each of my posts. If you know of a great read that you’d like me to share in this section, let me know by emailing

The Crew At Modest Money Is Teaching Us A Big Lesson – In this post at Luke1428, Brian explains how Jeremy at is teaching us all a lesson about being a part of the blogging community. If you’re a PF blogger, this is a great post for you!

Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me – If you’re a fan of personal finance blogs, you know about Frugal Rules. In this post, John shares a few details you probably didn’t know about him.


  1. I haven’t heard of synthetic happiness but I’ve learned I can turn on my happiness mindset. Just as much I can choose to be sad, I can choose to be happy with whatever I have going on or how littler I had.

    I’ve been doing this for quite some time not having a steady income and living barebones. Am I happier than I was before? Certainly. But, it all had to do with my mindset.

    I thought the more I made the more things I can get that would lead me to a happier existence. The less I would make the less things I could buy or experience. But, my own life has shown it’s not about the size of the paycheck or how much I can spend that can turn the frown upside down.

    • Hey Jason, thanks for your comment. That’s awesome that you’ve learned to turn the switch on. When I think of it like that, I think I have the same skill. I’ve been in situations where I could have been upset, but chose to be happy. I just want to figure out if I’ve got that will power when it comes to money. So far, I’m doing pretty good. Thanks again!

    • Hey Addison, thanks for swinging by. I find that saving also makes me happy, but it has to come with a good spending/saving balance. If not, I feel like I’m missing out on what I’ve earned. However, I do believe I can be happy spending much less which is what the experiment is all about. Thanks again!

  2. We started something similar last year. We cut our play money in half to help us pay down debt. So far it’s been fine. We don’t go out to eat as much which is fine by us but I think it has affected the people we used to socialize with more than it has us. Good Luck with the experiment.

  3. Sounds like an interesting experiment. You be the guinea pig and let us know how it goes. Don’t all great scientists experiment on themselves first? 🙂 Thanks for the mention also…I appreciate it!

    • Hey Brian, thanks for swinging by. I don’t mind being the guinea pig at all. Also, I think what you’re doing over there is great, and Jeremy really is an awesome guy. I know you said in your post that you don’t know him all that well, but if you get a chance to chat with him you’ll see how good of a guy he really is! Ohh yea, and I’m part of that crew at Modest Money too! I love being part of the blog!

    • Hey Shannon, thanks! It’s going pretty well so far. I’ve spent almost nothing since writing this post. Granted, it was only a few days ago, but I’m no less happy than I was. Thanks again for swinging by!

  4. I think if I start looking at all the ways I’m really lucky, I never should have any reason to be unhappy. It would be nice to have a switch you could flip though.

    • Hey Kim, thanks for swinging by. I absolutely believe that we have a switch that we can flip. I think that in some instances, it may take time, but I also think that we have evolved to have enough control over our minds to force ourselves to be happy. Hopefully I can prove that through this experiment. At least on a financial level. Thanks again!

  5. This is why I have a switch.

    My bathroom light switch.

    Every morning when I get up and look in the mirror, get a glass of water and brush my teeth. I utilize that time with my reflection to reflect upon my upcoming day and to be thankful for what I have, and what I want to accomplish.


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