Adverts showing us products we don’t have but apparently need. Stacks of magazines cover the opulent lives of the rich and famous. TV programmes portray celebrity life as if it’s to be aspired and admired.
- We’re surrounded by a narrative which depicts a life which seems to provide ultimate happiness. No wonder we get sucked into the belief that wealth and material possessions is the key to a happy life …but it this true?
A longitudinal study of lottery winners (Brickman et al.) who won between £50 thousand and £1million showed them to experience less pleasure in everyday life and, after the initial high, their happiness plummets rapidly.
As mentioned in another blog (Happiness & Money: The Truth), the happiness ‘cut off point’ is £6000 per month, after which levels of happiness stop increasing. Other research suggests that an optimal level of income for a happy life seems to be around £3000 per month but even so, there’s clear evidence to suggest that the key to making happiness out of money is what you do with it.
In one experiment, a group of students were given money to spend on themselves and another group to spend on someone else (prosocial spending). Measures of happiness were taken before and at intervals after they had spent the cash. This type of experiment has been replicated to consistently show that buying things for yourself creates an initial happiness spike followed by a rapid fall. Whereas, spending money on someone else produces a modest happiness high which continues for days.
Numerous studies consistently find that spending money on experiences not only increases the amount of pleasure experienced in life but also provides a much longer-lasting happiness boost in comparison to buying material ‘stuff’.
The question is, why?
Why do we experience longer-lasting happiness from prosocial spending? What is happening within us to produce this effect?
Why is the joy from material possession fleeting in comparison to experiences such as a day out, a meal with friends or a trip to the theatre?
Interested in this sort of stuff?
Check out my book on Positive Psychology, the science of Happiness