I asked 2 experts what I should know about money and happiness. This is what they said.
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It has long been said that "money doesn't buy happiness."

Then again, it's also been said that money does buy a WaveRunner, and it's impossible to be sad while on a WaveRunner.


GIF via "The Meredith Vieira Show."

But figuratively speaking, could buying a WaveRunner possibly result in happiness?

No one denies that buying things can feel good. But is there a difference between buying things that make us happy and actually buying happiness?

What are the most important things we should know about the relationship between the things we buy and our emotional well-being?

Hoping to get some answers, I spoke with two experts: Gretchen Rubin, author of the New York Times bestseller "The Happiness Project" and host of the podcast "Happier With Gretchen Rubin," and Jean Chatzky, author of "The 10 Commandments of Financial Happiness," financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, and host of the podcast "HerMoney."

1. Correlation isn't causation.

Image via iStock.


An influx of cash may alleviate some of your worries in the short term (mainly because it frees you from having to worry about money), but it won't do much to improve your general state of happiness in the long term unless you are doing the right things with it.

"If you're trying to decide whether or not to spend your money, anything that deepens or broadens relationships is probably a good idea," says Rubin.

"Should you go to your college reunion or spend that money going to a friend's wedding? Yes, because that's going to make you happier than a new pair of boots."

2. There is a ceiling.

Image via iStock.

"Once you have enough money to live comfortably, to get yourself a place to live, a car to take you back and forth to work, and enjoy yourself once in a while, more money beyond that isn't shown to measurably increase happiness," says Chatsky.

Is that really true? According to a Nobel Prize-winning study by Princeton University, the answer is yes!

Princeton's research team polled nearly a half-million Americans about their daily mood and income and found that lower income is associated with lower emotional well-being. They also found that the ceiling tends to top out at around an annual household income of $75,000 in most parts of the world. The researchers hypothesized that threshold could be the level at which people have enough money to spend time with people they like, keep themselves healthy, and enjoy leisure time.

3. It's all relative.

Image via iStock.

According to the UN's annual World Happiness Report, the happiest country in the world last year was Denmark, which somehow achieved this despite not even landing in the top 10 countries with the highest per-capita GDP or annual income.

This might be due to the fact that the reference point for what exactly is considered "wealthy" in countries like Denmark tends to be lower across the board than here in America, according to Chatzky.

Isn't it true that when we see the new car in our neighbor's driveway or the photos of our coworker's vacation in Bali, the inherently competitive part of our personalities comes out? It seems to place that desire for more above the things we as individuals actually require to be happy.

"You can't just assume that this experience or this project will increase my happiness because everybody talks about how great it is. You have to think about what's true for you."

"What tends to matter more than the actual numbers are whether you tend to have more or less than the person in the next office or the family down the block," says Chatzky.

"It's very easy to just go along with what 'everybody says,'" echoes Rubin.

"Everybody says it's fun to go out drinking. Everybody says it's fun to go skiing, but do you really enjoy that? I've heard from so many people who were like, 'You know, when I really stopped and thought about it, I realized I was doing all this stuff because I was just going along.' You can't just assume that this experience or this project will increase my happiness because everybody talks about how great it is. You have to think about what's true for you."

4. Control is key.

Image via iStock.

"What I learned from years of research is that what you have is not nearly as important as how much control you have over the money you have," says Chatzky.

Some of us can do more to achieve happiness with $30 than others can with $3,000, and it all relates back to the ways in which we are spending it.

"Money is like health. When we don't have it, it really affects us in the negative, but when we do have it, it's easy to take it for granted."

With today's technology, it's become more complex than ever. One-click shopping sites that automatically store your credit card information may be convenient, but they have also fueled our tendencies to spend money on "impulse buys" that we later regret.

"Money is like health. When we don't have it, it really affects us in the negative, but when we do have it, it's easy to take it for granted," says Rubin.

Indeed, the effect that poor money management can have on our happiness is similar to the effects a poor diet can have on our health. We know that a direct correlation between the two exists, but we often avoid it because we are convinced it's too late to change our ways.

Speaking of which...

5. Developing habits is also key.

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Human beings have always been creatures of habit, yet we usually only tend to acknowledge this phenomenon when discussing the habits that negatively influence our lives. The truth, however, is that it's just as possible for us to develop positive spending habits in order to better our emotional well-being.

There are many attainable goals that will directly influence your levels of happiness, according to both Chatzky and Grubin. They suggest small things like regularly monitoring your spending habits, automatically deducting 5% of your paycheck into a savings account, or paying your bills as they come in instead of all at once.

"Anything that's convenient, you're more likely to do," mentions Grubin. "Automatic savings requires no effort. If you're shopping, shop with a basket, not with a cart. The more inconvenient it is to carry that stuff around, the less likely you are to buy it."

You see, laziness can be used for good after all! (*turns on television*) (*binge-watches 10 straight "30 Rock" episodes*)

6. Know yourself.

Image via iStock.

Are you more likely to spend money with a credit card or with cash? Do you really need that expensive coffee on the way to work each day, or the biweekly trips to the tanning booth?

"Getting on a path so that you know where you want to go, and that there are benchmarks between you and that goal for you to knock down ... to know that you're making progress is one of the easiest ways to make yourself happy."

You are the only person who can make the changes necessary to ensure your happiness, and the first step in doing so is acknowledging the impact that money has on it and taking the correct measures to improve the relationship between the two.

"Getting on a path so that you know where you want to go, and that there are benchmarks between you and that goal for you to knock down ... to know that you're making progress is one of the easiest ways to make yourself happy," says Chatzky.

"The thing about money is that it really pulls us down more than it lifts us up," adds Rubin. "It's important to cultivate a gratitude for when you do have enough money, because if you're not worrying about it, you don't realize what a huge role it plays."

It all boils down to making sure you are truly investing in your happiness, not just trying to buy it.

It's all about balance. So, whether it's that new pair of boots, that definitive collection of Biggie's greatest hits, or that annual ski trip in Aspen — if it's serving you, then it's good to spend! But before you do, just make sure you can still afford the mortgage payment or that unexpected blown tire when you get back.

Money may never be able to buy happiness in and of itself, but it can help provide you with the stability that makes happiness a much more attainable goal.

Maybe not a "bulldog in sunglasses riding a WaveRunner" level of happiness, but happiness nonetheless.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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