Does Money Really Bring You Happiness?

What would you do if your salary doubled this very instant?’

  • Would you buy a shiny, new car?
  • Would you take that New Zealand vacation like you always wanted?
  • Or would you donate a large amount of your income to a local orphanage?

No matter what you choose, the underlying action is governed by what makes you the happiest.

According to a study conducted in the Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, a surge in your bank account today would leave you much, much happier than you were yesterday. This is of course primarily linked to both having the means to cover your necessities, as well as the instant gratification you are soon to get with the new purchases you’re bound to make. After all, we’re all 21st century human beings.

Of course, what really drives that surge in your personal happiness quotient is not having money. But, how that money is spent.

We derive greater happiness through ‘Prosocial spending’.

As inquisitive and thought-provoking the aforementioned question may be, the answers could be used to psychograph different subsets of people.

We begin with those who have would start their argument with the age old adage, “Spend on experiences, not things!”. There is a considerably large group of globetrotting millennials, or at least those with #Wanderlust on their instagram handles, who would bellow that spending your income on experiences would make you much happier. Fortunately for them, there has been research providing them with considerable evidence. They point out that even if you buy a shiny new sports car or the latest Apple product, the personal satisfaction of that purchase would be short lived. In other words, it suffers from what is called ‘hedonic adaptation’ — We tend to fall in love with our purchases for a few days, until the novelty wears out.

In 2014, a study conducted by Elizabeth Dunn, Michael Norton and Lara Aknin posed that we derive greater happiness through ‘Prosocial spending’. In simpler words, we attain greater happiness when we give.

Dunn, Norton and Lara conducted their study by giving 5–20 to a set of students. Half of them were asked to go ahead and buy something for themselves, whereas the others were asked to spend it on someone else. The very same evening, those who had spent the money on someone else reported happier moods throughout the course of the day than the others.

20% out of the subset from South Africa reported not having enough money to support their own family.

To further their hypothesis, the trio had tested out their findings on a global scale. This was taken to regions with varying economic prowess ranging from Canada, India to South Africa. The test involved a group of participants spending on a ‘goody bag’ filled with treats which they could either buy for themselves or have it donated to a children’s hospital. Once again, those who had donated their goody bag for the children’s hospital reported happier moods throughout the course of the day. What had surprised Dunn, et al. was that 20% out of the subset from South Africa reported not having enough money to support their own family.

Effectively, their study has shown us that prosocial spending is a naturally imbibed feature present in all of us. Touted, among other things, as the root of all evil — Money can bring you happiness. Next time when you’re lucky enough to have a surplus in your account, think about how can give rather than how you can buy.

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