Money, it seems, just might be able to buy you a bit of happiness this holiday season. Or so says research from the University of British Columbia and Harvard University.

The good news: It doesn't matter how much you make, because you can spend as little as $5 to get happy. But there's a catch: In order for your money to make you happy, you've got to spend it on others. Not yourself. Sounds like the perfect reason to pick up a little "extra something" for a loved one or co-worker.

What's the link?
The connection between your wallet and your happiness isn't as complex as you might think. "We found that while it might make you happy 'in the moment,' despite popular belief, spending money on big ticket items like new cars, jewelry or on vacations doesn't contribute to sustained happiness," says lead researcher, University of British Columbia assistant professor Elizabeth Dunn, PhD. And, using a year-end or holiday bonus to pay off bills isn't the path to happiness either.

Dunn's team found people are "significantly happier" when spending "pro-socially" on gifts for friends and family, or in charitable donations. Much more so than when spending money on bills or big-ticket or luxury items. An added bonus: This kind of spending creates happiness that lasts six to eight weeks, says Dunn, much longer than other forms of spending, which can make you happy for just a few weeks, or even a few hours.

"Spend pro-socially a few times a month, to double, triple or quadruple the happiness effect," says Dunn.

Affording happiness
Tight budgets and overstretched dollars might leave you feeling like you can't afford one thin dime on yourself, let alone someone else. However, the researchers say you don't have to blow your budget all in the name of happiness.

"As little as $5 now and then lifts spirits," says Dunn. So buying a co-worker a sandwich or a loved one their favorite candy bar can make you happy.

Timing really is everything since Dunn and her team found the best time of day to spend depends on you. "If you're a morning person, spend pro-socially then," says Dunn. You receive the biggest happiness boost if give when you're most alert and aware of what you're doing.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.

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