We've heard it a million times: "Money can't buy happiness." It seems sensible enough, doesn't it? After all, you won't find happiness in a jar in any store. (Though sometimes, my morning bowl of Lucky Charms provides a modicum of happiness.) I've noticed the aphorism get challenged lately, though.

For example, at dataless.org, I ran across one person's musings:

You can find a hundred people that will tell you money doesn't buy happiness, I say they are flat out wrong. That's right, I dare any of these so called miserable wealthy people to prove me wrong. I say money can indeed buy me happiness and I'll prove it if given the chance. Give me a couple of million dollars and see just how happy I am.

Of course, I myself would love to receive a million dollars, and I think it would increase my happiness level. Still, I can't be sure. Making a case against it are the many examples of lottery jackpot winners who've gone on to live less-than-enviable lives.

Maybe you can ...
So I was intrigued the other day to run across a fascinating post at Gretchen Rubin's www.happiness-project.com website. She explained how you can buy happiness: "The secret to using money to buy happiness is to spend money in ways that support your happiness goals." She then offered some examples, such as:

  • You can strengthen your relationships with family and friends by spending more time with them. Perhaps go on a trip with a friend. Or do more entertaining at your home. Or travel to visit far-flung loved ones.
  • Experiences tend to offer more happiness than possessions, so consider spending more money on recreational activities than on items to fill your home.
  • If there's a source of marital discord that you can reduce or wipe out with some money, consider doing so. This might mean hiring a lawn service, or maybe finally getting new windows.
  • Since exercise has been linked to increasing our contentment in life, you might exercise more, via a gym membership or new exercise equipment. Similarly, being healthy also boosts happiness, so you might choose to spend more on food by buying healthier fare.
  • And here's one idea I liked a lot: "One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make someone else happy. Think about ways you could spend the money that would make a big difference to someone else -- whether someone you know, or a cause you support. How many new books could the library's children's room add to the shelves?"

Fool ish happiness
Given that this is a Motley Fool article, I don't think you'll be surprised to see this last suggestion: If you're in debt, or have insufficient retirement savings, use any extra money you have to change that. It should help you sleep better and ultimately be happier (or at least less unhappy). If you're young, this can be especially powerful. A mere $1,000, invested for 25 years at the market's historic average annual return of around 10%, will amount to nearly $11,000. Multiply that by how many thousands you think you can sock away -- and keep socking it away, perhaps in a simple S&P 500 index fund.

If you're nervous about how well you've been saving for retirement, I invite (nay, encourage!) you to check out our Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter, which you can try for free. A free 30-day trial will give you full access to all past issues, allowing you to gather valuable tips and even read how some folks have retired early and well. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.

The Happiness Index
After thinking about these suggestions, it occurred to me that it would be interesting if there were a "Happiness Index" that we could easily monitor. We could include companies that promote exercise, such as Nautilus (NYSE:NLS), Nike (NYSE:NKE), and Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN); healthy-fare purveyors such as Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI) and Wild Oats (NASDAQ:OATS); and travel-related enterprises such as Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) and Carnival (NYSE:CCL). There is, after all, already a fear index.

But while a Happiness Index might be interesting -- and perhaps even profitable, if a serious pursuit of happiness catches on in the country -- it's not as valuable as working on boosting your own happiness. So spend a little time thinking about how you might be able to buy yourself some happiness. OK?

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian doesn't owns shares any companies mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view  her bio and her profile. Vail Resorts is a Hidden Gems recommendation. Whole Foods is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any one of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.