Can money really buy you happiness?

Can money buy you happiness

Can money really buy you happiness? Money can’t buy you love – some people say. They also say it can’t buy you happiness. But what if it could? Thanks to extensive research into human behaviour and psychology, we can come to understand what contributes most to people’s happiness. We can also decipher how to get our hands on these objects and experiences, and what that might cost us.

Let’s leave the debate over the path to happiness to the philosophers and poets. What we can do however, is look at the research that exists and see what conclusion it points to re how our spending affects our enjoyment of life.

Put simply, not all purchases are created equal. The same £100 can have a wildly different impact on happiness, both short and long term. This of course, depending on what we choose to do with it.

Can money really buy you happiness? – Tangible vs intangible

For example, research to suggest that intangible experiences can actually provide joy for longer, eg:

  • a holiday
  • a special meal at your favourite restaurant
  • a trip to the theatre

This is compared to a physical object that would remain in your possession long after the final curtain call.

Amit Kumar is an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas whose research focuses on the science of happiness. Kumar explains that, “experiences are fleeting, but not in a psychological sense. They live on in our memories, they live on in the stories we tell.” This statement is shown to be true in research conducted by Carter and Gilovich, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2010. The study demonstrates that while the satisfaction gained from the purchase of a material item tends to decrease over time, the opposite is true with purchases of experiences.

This doesn’t just apply to large purchases either. For example, you don’t need to take a round-the-world trip to feel the benefits of experiential purchases. As Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University puts it; “these kinds of experiences don’t demand a giant bank account.” Gilovich is also keen to point out that material purchases aren’t inherently bad. Also, they don’t necessarily make you less happy, but, “if you shift your expenditures a bit more in the experiential direction and a bit less in the material direction, you’ll be happier.”

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