Groups of psychologists are investigating, from several different angles, that age old question: does money bring happiness?
At the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology this week at Long Beach, California, the researchers are trying new directions in the science of spending.
They looked at the effects of experiential purchases, potential negative impacts on abundance and how the wealthy think differently about well-being.
Experiential purchases, or money spent on doing, may provide more enduring happiness than material purchases, or money spent on things to have, according to research in the journal Psychological Science.
People who took part in the study said that waiting for an experience elicits significantly more happiness, pleasantness and excitement than waiting for material goods.
“The anticipatory period (for experiential purchases) tends to be more pleasant… less tinged with impatience relative to future material purchases we’re planning on making,” says lead researcher Amit Kumar.
In an analysis of stories about long queues, those waiting for an experience tended to be in a better mood and better behaved than those waiting for a material good.
The researchers suggest it might make sense to delay some purchases and shift spending away from material goods to more experiences.
The advice: Plan for holidays, dinner parties and concerts well ahead of time to reap more benefits from anticipation.
Abundance, adversity and savouring
Both material and experiential wealth tends to reduce people’s ability to savour simple joys and experiences, according to research in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Wealth and abundance may undermine appreciation and reduce the positive emotions associated with everyday experiences.
However, experiencing adversity in the past or scarcity in the present increases a person’s ability to savour everyday moments, according to a study in the journal in Social Psychological and Personality Science (SPPS).
“Simply reminding individuals that the future can be unpredictable drives people to stop and smell the roses,” says researcher Jordi Quoidbach.
Temporarily giving something up may provide an effective route to happiness, says another study published in SPPS.
Consistently indulging in pleasure and abundance may not be the most productive route to happiness.
What do the wealthy need to be happy?
Many believe that money, and lots of it, is the sure and true path to happiness.
However, pursuing wealth for its own sake may be ineffective if you also want well-being in your life, according to a study by Harvard Business School, the University of Mannheim and Yale University.
Wealthy individuals report that having three to four times as much money would give them a perfect 10 score on happiness regardless of how much wealth they already have.
“Wealthy individuals, whether worth $1 million or $10 million, are not happier as their wealth increases,” says researcher Michael Norton.
Using money as guide, happiness will always just be out of reach. Just a little but more money is needed.
The research shows that happiness is not related to wealth and may even be negatively related to income. That study is expected to be published in the coming year.