Patricia Lovett-Reid

If you're from my generation, you've probably learned a thing or two from the Beatles. You know, for example, that money can't buy you love. But can it buy you happiness? Here's something the Fab Four might not have known: Studies find it can — but only if used properly.

Money matters, certainly. A worldwide poll by Gallup last year searched for a correlation between money and happiness, focusing on two key factors: longer-term overall satisfaction with one's life, and the more moment-to-moment joys in life.

The survey was carried out in 132 countries, involving 136,000 respondents. The poll found richer nations and individuals tended to be more satisfied with life. That makes sense, since money is an important means of achieving higher living standards, and therefore greater well-being. Higher economic wealth also helps improve access to better quality education, health care and housing.

But does satisfaction equal happiness? According to the Gallup poll, while the United States ranks highest in cumulative wealth, it is far from the top on a happiness scale, weighing in at number 16. Highest ranked are Denmark and New Zealand for meeting psychological and social needs, and helping residents live a fulfilling and purposeful life.

Many psychologists and economists agree that money helps improve happiness when it provides the most basic of needs such as food, shelter and health. But beyond that, money has little effect on happiness, merely resetting the bar, as it were.

So once needs are met, what can improve our level of happiness?

A study by researchers including Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia, finds it's what we do with our money that determines happiness. She says if spending money isn't giving you happiness, you probably aren't spending it right. And with Canadian retail sales totalling about $436 billion per year, that's a lot of potential happiness!