Study Says Money Buys You Happiness – But Not How You Think

Nearly every person you meet is in the pursuit of happiness. Some economists believe that the best indication of a society’s health is the level of its happiness. Of course, once our basic needs are met, money doesn’t make us that happy. Or does it?


According to a new Cornell University study, there are valid reasons why a weekend getaway at Bahamas or a horse riding lesson with your best friend could trump a new kitchen floor or a smart new TV. It turns out that talking about new experiences makes it more enjoyable and leads to happiness in the long-term; whereas a new gadget or a high-end piece of clothing can only make you happy till the novelty wears off.


Why does this happen?


Because when you tell a great story about an exciting event in your life, like bungee-jumping with friends in Thailand, or a visit to your local zoo, it makes you enjoy it much more as you relive the whole thing.


And the best part is that this enjoyment doesn’t end there with that one episode.


Every time you share your fun or unique experience with people, you feel happy.


So, as Amit Kumar, a graduate student in the field of psychology, puts it – people have a tendency to talk about what they experienced, rather than about the shopping they did – no matter how expensive it was!


Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology, and Amit Kumar are the brains behind this concept of experiences over materialism when it comes to long-term happiness, according to a recent exhaustive Cornell University study. They submitted a working paper in this regard at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual meeting in New Orleans.


The pursuit of wealth seems to have become inevitable everywhere – and the prevailing misconception is that an abundance of money is a good thing. But what most people fail to comprehend is why is that so?


The truth is that the presence of money doesn’t bring happiness; how you spend it does. It might seem simple enough to understand but a large number of people don’t. The thing is – once our basic needs are fulfilled, money doesn’t contribute much to how happy we are, or how healthy we are in general.


For instance, you just got a big check in the form of a holiday bonus and you’re excited to spend your hard earned moolah. You want to buy that leather jacket you’ve been eyeing for awhile, and some shoes to go with it. But you promised your spouse a skiing trip in the holidays.




What do you do?


If you chose the leather jacket, you’re still not understanding the concept of money spent versus materialism and experiences.


According to Amit Kumar, the more you talk about your amazing experience (you climbed the medium hill in one go while skiing with an injured hand), the more you relive the fun of it, encouraging embellishment and increasing your overall enjoyment.


Plus, Gilovich and Kumar also discovered that if you take away the opportunity to discuss the experiences that people so desperately want to share, their happiness diminishes; while talking leads to more enjoyment and satisfaction.


But this doesn’t hold true for materialistic goods.


After all, how long can you talk about your costly new leather jacket from a major brand?


On the other hand, the skiing trip will bring a smile on your face for years to come.


In one of the 7 new experiments they performed, the Cornell University researchers asked 96 participating men and women to recall an important experience or any material purchase that they think is significant for them. Then they queried the participants on how much talking they did about both things and the level of satisfaction derived from both.


Not surprisingly, most of the participating members claimed to have had a much better moment while sharing their favorite experiences than by buying new things.


Another interesting research experiment had Gilovich and Kumar asking 98 participants to recall their most significant purchases or experiences in the last 5 years, and were made to choose one – either a purchase that they could talk about, or an experience that they wouldn’t be allowed to talk about.


Participants chose a purchase which they could share, rather than an experience that they couldn’t.


Retirement Men


According to Kumar, this research has practical applications as well, because if nursing homes provided the elderly residents the opportunity to share their experiences of visits from friends and family, they would feel far happier and be less prone to depression and loneliness.


So, choose traveling with friends and vacationing with family over high-end purchases to spend your money wisely and feel much happier for years and years. Get the most psychological bang for your hard-earned bucks and do not give in to trivial things.


After all, your memories will stay with you forever; and that leather jacket or new iphone is only good for a season or two.


Live your life; don’t wear it.


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  • Chemmelbee

    This makes sense. It’s always a good time to talk about past DB races/trips/experiences with friends rather than talk about a new paddle. 😛

    • SquirmyFeet

      Exactly! You can talk about a new paddle only once or twice, but you reminiscence a festival/race again and again for years to come.

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