Economics People

Buying happiness

…a rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness. That’s not all that surprising; it’s what Norton asked next that led to an interesting insight. He asked these rich people how happy they were at any given moment. Then he asked them how much money they would need to be even happier.

“All of them said they needed two to three times more than they had to feel happier,” says Norton. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that money, above a certain modest sum, does not have the power to buy happiness, and yet even very rich people continue to believe that it does: the happiness will come from the money they don’t yet have.

To the general rule that money, above a certain low level, cannot buy happiness there is one exception. “While spending money upon oneself does nothing for one’s happiness,” says Norton, “spending it on others increases happiness.

The full article is worth a read, there’s interesting stuff about the effect of wealth on empathy and the inclination to cheat and steal. I would’ve assumed they were cause rather then effect but it may be more circular than that.

There are other good tidbits and observations: the effect wealth can (or can’t) have on politics, the difficulties of philanthopy, a favourite has to be:

The American upper middle class has spent a fortune teaching its children to play soccer: how many great soccer players come from the upper middle class?

That final line of the blockquote above is the most important though: spending money on others increases happiness. I am certainly nowhere near the wealth status of the participants of these studies but little makes me happier than giving. You have to give. Make sure you can eat, you’re housed and clothed and all that but then give things away: your time, your expertise, whatever. If I’m feeling down my quickfix method to cheering myself up is to bake a batch of something and give to everyone I work with. It doesn’t have to be material wealth, giving just makes you happier.

(via kottke)