WISH you had been the Irish winner of the €94m Euromillions lottery prize last week?
It’s not surprising — we’re a society that’s constantly led to believe more money instantly equals more happiness.
However, in their new book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, psychologists Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton argue a different case, stating that after a fairly low threshold, more money does not improve our contentment levels. They claim that if we really want a life full of joy, we should change how spend the money that we do have, instead of trying to make more of it.
“It’s well documented that people get more happiness from buying experiences, like trips, concerts and special meals, than from buying material things, like dresses and houses,” says Dunn.
There are a number of reasons for this, she says. Firstly, we tend to have experiences with other people, material purchases are more often enjoyed alone. Secondly, we tend to compare our material possessions — homes, cars, outfits — to those of others, making us more likely to regret our purchase. Experiences, however, are unique – it isn’t as easy to compare a concert you saw with a film your friend saw.
Finally, the rush of happiness you feel when you buy a new material possession fades quicker than experiences. “It would seem that the ideal route to happiness would be to have all the things we like best, all the time, but it turns out that’s not true,” says Dunn.
When we have something that we love all the time, it becomes the norm and we no longer get excited about having it. That’s why if we want something to stay a treat, we should limit how often we have it.
“A fascinating finding from happiness research is that the big things in life, like getting married and having a good job matter — but not as much as people expect,” says Dunn.
The little things, however, matter a lot. Dunn explains that if you hate certain small chores like vacuuming or washing the car, paying someone else to do it can have a big impact on your happiness levels. Not only are you spared the chore — you can also spend your new-found free time doing something fun.
Put it into practice. If you can’t stand cleaning the gutter and you can afford to, pay someone to do it. Make sure that you spend the extra time doing something you really want to do. Paying now and consuming later, rather than consuming now and paying later, will make us happier.
* Information: If you’d like learn more about Elizabeth Dunn’s perspective on your relationship with money visitdunn.psych.ubc.ca and follow the link to surveys.
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