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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Why doesn’t money make you happier?

We’ve all been told a million times that having a lot of money won’t make you happy - or no happier, that is, than having just enough money. After enough (to keep the wolves from the door, the rent paid, and some honey in the cupboard), money seems not to make much difference to levels of happiness at all. Moreover, research has shown that, in many cases, rich people seem to be less happy.

"Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes it obscure your vision.!
His-Tang Chih Tsang, Zen Master (735-814)

So why doesn't having more money make us happier? New research by Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues* suggests that the answer lies, at least in part, in how rich people lose touch with their ability to truly appreciate or savour life's pleasures.

Savouring is a way of increasing and prolonging our positive experiences: taking time to experience the wonderful taste of a fresh apple, for example, or the beauty of the sky at night, or the way a good joke can make you crack up so your whole body ripples. Being aware of the effect of these good things and taking the time to appreciate them, however minor they might be, is what will turn an ordinary day into a day in which a number of wonderful things happened to you. Being aware of, and appreciating, the small delights of life is what makes people happier, not money. And is also why the habit of recalling Three Good Things (Happiness Habit No. 6) in our Habits of Happiness Experiment works.

So why, then, don't rich people savour these things, if it feels so good?
It's obviously not for a lack of delightful things because rich people probably have easier access to the finer things in life, as well as more time to savour them (I’m obviously thinking of gourmet restaurants and African sunsets here). The basic idea is that when you have the money to eat at fancy restaurants every night and buy designer clothes whenever you want, those experiences diminish the enjoyment you get out of the simpler, more everyday pleasures, like the smell of a sausage in the pan cooked by a friend or the bargain you got on Ebay.

"He who is richest is content with least, for content is the wealth of nature."
Socrates (469 - 399 BC)

When you have more than enough money to buy whatever it is you think you want, that want has lost all its flavour - it’s just another thing you can have. Wanting something implies the possibility of not getting it, surely. But if you know you can have whatever you want, then the desire, as well as the pleasure of getting it, has been diminished.  

So that’s why having more than ‘enough’ money won't make you happier, and can also be bad for you.

One way rich people can offset this disadvantage is using their money for the good of others. Philanthropy has its rewards - as you can find out from reading about Happiness Habit No 4, Spreading Happiness.

Quoidbach, J., et al.,(2010) Money giveth, money taketh away: The dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychological Science, 21, 759-763

Posted by Annabel

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