It’s week two of my science of happiness series. Last week I wrote a post about the lives of happiness according to Dr. Martin Seligman.
Today we’re getting into the age old question: can money buy happiness?
Research into the topic gives us some interesting insight into that question. First, I will present you the research that is currently out there. Then, at the end of this post I will talk about my personal thoughts on the subject. I’d love to hear your opinion as well, so make sure you tell me in the comments!
How much income do you need to be happy?
Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize winner and Princeton professor, and Daniel Kahneman conducted a study surveying 450,000 people about the amount of income they made and the level of satisfaction with their life. The researchers of the study found that there is a happiness plateau for income. Once people made $75,000 or above they did not report a significant increase of happiness in their lives.
The findings of this study are interesting. On one hand, we can see that money can contribute to happiness—well at least up until $75,000. But, after that, there really is no indication that past this point there is an increase of happiness one feels.
I remember the first time I read this study and felt pretty surprised by the results. So what do you think? Does this study surprise you too? Let me know in the comments!
Buying time can make you feel happier
How many of you commute to work? I’m sure a fair amount of you. I have plenty of friends who commute to work and make a great salary. But, often when I ask them how work is going they always complain about the time it takes them to get to and from work. I totally get that. I used to struggle with that, too.
Researchers Alois Stutzer and Bruno Frey from the University of Zurich found that people who had long commutes to work reported lower overall life satisfaction.
So what does a commute have to do with happiness and money? A lot. The thing is so many of us spend a lot of our time committing to working and making a salary to live on. But, if we spend our time getting to and from work feeling unhappy then we should really be asking ourselves the question: is it worth it?
It is worth it if you consider certain options. For example, if you love your job but hate the commute why not use your money to buy a place closer to work? Therefore, you’d be buying yourself more time to do the things you love. I guarantee your happiness levels would go up. There is money spent wisely!
I think most of us would agree that our time is precious, and we want to have more time to do the things we are passionate about. So why not spend our money to allow us to have more time? For example, I used to be a nanny for two children whose parents were both full time lawyers. The parents worked long hours and got home late every evening. I filled in doing things around the house for them like light cooking for the kids or tidying up the house. They also had a housecleaner come once a week. By outsourcing some of the tasks the parents had to do, they had more time to spend with their kids and dog when they came home from work.
Research has proven that outsourcing tasks to buy yourself more time does actually make you feel happier. So, if you are able to, consider buying yourself a little time!
Learn to slow down the process of adapting to what you buy
If you read my post last week about the three lives of happiness, then you will recall one of the lives is called the pleasant life.
The pleasant life is all about experiencing as many positive and pleasurable moments in our lives as we possibly can. This includes buying material goods like cars or clothes. When we first make a purchase, we feel very happy with what we have bought. But, after some time—which is usually not that much time—we no longer feel the same amount of happiness that we had when we made this purchase. This is because happiness for these kinds of purchases habituates.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside says one way to combat this is to, “consciously try to foster appreciation for what you have.”
I totally believe in what Dr. Lyubomirsky says because this is something I do nearly every day. What I try to do daily is take some time to count my blessings. I make a conscious effort to truly appreciate everything I have in my life. This way I don’t quickly adapt quickly to my material possessions. So, the next time you buy something new take some time to really have a moment of gratitude for being able to make that purchase. It will help you to feel happiness for being fortunate enough to live the life you live, and hopefully make you feel happier!
Material possession vs. experience: which one leads to more happiness?
If you had a limited amount of money and could buy tickets to see your favorite band or a new article of clothing, which would you chose?
Each person will answer this question differently, but what is interesting is the findings from such self-reported questions.
Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell University psychology professor says, “people often make a rational calculation: I have a limited amount of money, and I can either go there, or I can have this.“ So logically this makes sense, but how about psychologically?
Gilovich says people think, “if I go there, it’ll be great, but it’ll be done in no time. If I buy this thing, at least I’ll always have it. That is factually true, but not psychologically true. We adapt to our material goods.”
Again, this shows that we quickly adapt to the new material purchases we make, which is why it is so hard to find long lasting happiness through material purchases.
But, it is experiences that gives us a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness in our lives. Just think about the question I asked about buying the concert tickets or a new article of clothing. After five years which experience would make you happier? I’m guessing most of you would say the concert tickets. By then, that article of clothing would probably be too worn out to even wear anymore. On the other hand, you will still reminisce about the concert and the wonderful time you had.
So what do you think about money and happiness?
I’m a total believer in this positive psychology research. The field has been rapidly growing, and the above professors and researchers I have mentioned are some of the top people in the field of positive psychology. The researchers are starting to see that happiness is a complex and multi-faceted topic that needs to be studied. Their findings will help contribute to humans experiencing more happiness in their lives and therefore flourishing more. Isn’t that wonderful?
In my post last week, I already mentioned that we need to balance our lives between having positive experiences, working with our strengths and finding meaning in our lives. We need to not only help ourselves, but help others as well in order to feel long lasting happiness with our lives. In addition, I do think that money can buy happiness if you are using it in the right ways. I have always been sure that experience can buy you happiness, and the research is starting to prove this. I also believe that material possessions won’t really give me the long term happiness I’m looking for.
I work part-time as an English teacher now, and I spend the rest of my time doing the things I love. I don’t have enough money to buy a lot of material possessions but you know what? I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I have everything I need and I’m able to have time to give back and help other people in my free time. I get to have amazing experiences traveling and doing the things I am passionate about. Life isn’t just about getting more money! It’s about truly living in the moment and having time to do the things you love!
This above paragraph is my own opinion. I totally understand that you may share a different opinion than mine. I’d love to hear what you think about happiness in general and if you think money can buy you happiness. So, make sure you let me know below in the comments 🙂