Popular culture tells us we’d be happier with more money, but how much is enough? John D. Rockefeller had a tongue-in-cheek reply to the query, “Just a little bit more,” while an entire countermovement scoffs at the notion that joy and contentment can be purchased, arguing that money is not the root of all happiness, but of all evil.

What does psychology have to say on the subject? According to a new San Francisco State University study, both camps are partially right: money can lead to greater happiness for the person possessing it and those around them, if it is used to buy experiences, not possessions.

According to SFU’s February 7 press release, the study by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at SFU, “demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive.”

The remainder of the release describes the study procedure:

Participants in the study were asked to write reflections and answer questions about their recent purchases. Participants indicated that experiential purchases represented money better spent and greater happiness for both themselves and others. The results also indicate that experiences produce more happiness regardless of the amount spent or the income of the consumer.

Experiences also lead to longer-term satisfaction. “Purchased experiences provide memory capital,” Howell said. “We don’t tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object.

“People still believe that more money will make them happy, even though 35 years of research has suggested the opposite,” Howell said. “Maybe this belief has held because money is making some people happy some of the time, at least when they spend it on life experiences.”

“The mediators of experiential purchases: Determining the impact of psychological need satisfaction” was conducted by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and SF State graduate Graham Hill.

I know I feel happier when I spend money on dining out, movies, travel, or other experiences — shopping is fun too, but the excitement fades quickly after I’ve made my purchases — and I’m particularly interested to hear the thoughts of our blog readers regarding these findings. What is your reaction to this research, and how does it speak to your experience? Do you think more money would make you happier? Do you think it’s necessary to spend it on non-material experiences to maximize your happiness?

 


Comments


View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 20 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.


    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grinnell, R. (2009). Money = Happiness, But There’s a Catch. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/02/08/money-happiness-but-theres-a-catch/

 

Recent Comments
  • scrutinize,anylize,contrast: Psychologists, Psychiatrists, MFC’s, LSW,well, they’ll all human. I have had...
  • Paula: ” Things like shooting without looking through the viewfinder” I don’t understand this.
  • Cindy: I have been going through pain for about three years now. I have asked for help with this for three years. I...
  • thatjournalistdork: I agree that the use of “said” does get boring and annoying, but it is proper AP...
  • lisa: I am at a loss,my baby sister who is smart,and loving phoned me one day and starting crying,I hope that I was...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter


Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code