A few months ago, I was fortunate to see a screening of a wonderful documentary, HAPPY. The HAPPY movie is a powerful exploration of what really makes people happy and some of the answers are surprising.

If you read my sister’s and my blog, Inspired Everyday Living, you know we are big proponents of living simply and being aware of habits as consumers that lead to clutter. What does this have to do with the movie?

Well we’ve all heard, probably said, and on some level believe, the common expression money can’t buy happiness. Yet many of us continue to pursue material affluence as a means to being happier. But as this movie demonstrates, it’s simply not the path to lasting happiness.

Research in the field of positive psychology (aka the science of happiness) has shown that once we have enough money and things to satisfy all our basic needs, more money and more stuff won’t provide more happiness. Yet, in a society that celebrates consumption, we are often encouraged to make more money so we can spend it on accumulating more stuff. Buying stuff might provide a temporary spike in our happiness levels, but it doesn’t last. So it’s true buying a new car, television or blender might make us happier at first, but we quickly adapt to our new gadget and therefore haven’t increased or improved our continued happiness.

Many of the things research has shown to increase happiness on a more permanent ongoing basis are free, such as connecting with friends and family, exercise or hobbies that really engage our mind and bodies, feeling and expressing gratitude and compassion, or positively contributing to the lives of others (to learn more about what research has shown really makes us happy, check out this great article).

If someone gave you a hundred dollars and told you that you could spend it on something that would make you happy for a few weeks or something that could contribute to your long-term happiness, I think the choice would be obvious. So why do we often choose to accumulate stuff? Probably because it’s hard to ignore a society that inundates us with messages that consumption is good and that more is better.

I admit I have enjoyed the bump of happiness that, for me, comes when I buy new clothes. But I also know that while clearing the clutter from my closets, I’ve found many of those splurges hardly worn and occasionally forgotten. This isn’t to say extra money can’t have any significant benefits—for example it may allow us to have more time to spend with friends or enjoy our hobbies—but after a certain point, it’s not as necessary as we’ve come to believe.

Going back to the hypothetical hundred dollars, I would have been much better off spending that money hosting a dinner party for friends, getting a tennis or surfing lesson, or spending a few dollars on a new gratitude journal and giving the rest to charity.

If the popularity of an expression is any indication, than the research supports what we must already know: money can’t buy happiness and the best things in life are free. But sometimes, among all the noise, it’s helpful to be reminded so we can check in with, and re-evaluate, our own consumption habits. Next time I’m considering purchasing something I don’t need, I know I’ll be more conscious of the choice I make. I’ll ask myself two questions: “am I buying this because I think on some level it will make me happier?” and if so, “can I make a better choice?”

To read our recent blog on gratitude click here.

To read our post about how to change habits that create clutter click here.

To learn more about the HAPPY movie check out the website. This movie has so many inspirational stories and interesting research, I have no doubt I’ll be writing about it again!