Monday, January 31, 2011

I knew it!

One of the ideas underpinning this blog is that it's easier to be happy if are able to enjoy the simple joys of daily life, rather than needing major, life-changing events to buoy you. They don't happen that often, but life's little pleasures are everywhere, every day, if you look.

And guess what? It's true! Science says so!

On the weekend I was reading a very interesting paper by a trio of American academics on the relationship between money and happiness (via The Happiness Project). They argue that money can indeed by happiness, but we just don't spend it right, which explains why wealthy people aren't that much happier than the rest of us.  

One of their principles for spending money to increase happiness is to buy many small pleasures instead of a few larger ones.
If we inevitably adapt to the greatest delights that money can buy, then it may be better to indulge in a variety of frequent, small pleasures—double lattes, uptown pedicures, and high thread-count socks— rather than pouring money into large purchases, such as sports cars, dream vacations, and front-row concert tickets. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with large purchases. But as long as money is limited by its failure to grow on trees, we may be better off devoting our finite financial resources to purchasing frequent doses of lovely things rather than infrequent doses of lovelier things. Indeed, across many different domains, happiness is more strongly associated with the frequency than the intensity of people’s positive affective experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991).
And later on... 

The happiness provided by frequent small pleasures helps make sense of the modest correlation between money and happiness. In a study of Belgian adults, individuals who had a strong capacity to savor the mundane joys of daily life were happier than those who did not (Quoidbach, Dunn, Petrides, and Mikolajczak, 2010).
Interestingly, wealthy people suck at appreciating mundane pleasures. (Yay for having an average income, eh? If I were rich, this blog wouldn't exist!)
This capacity to savor, however, was reduced among wealthy individuals. Indeed, the positive impact of wealth on happiness was significantly undercut by the negative impact of wealth on savoring. Quoidbach et al (2010) argue that wealth promises access to peak experiences, which in turn undermine the ability to savor small pleasures (see also Parducci, 1995). Indeed, when participants are exposed to photographs of money (thereby priming the construct of wealth) they spend significantly less time eating a piece of chocolate and exhibit less pleasure while doing it. In short, not only are the small pleasures of daily life an important source of happiness, but unfettered access to peak experiences may actually be counterproductive.
The happiness boffins also urge people to spend their money on experiences, rather than material goods, to improve their happiness, which is another conclusion that I've reached in recent years.

Their other principles are: 

  • Use your money to benefit others rather than yourself  (have I not waxed gleeful lyrical about how good it is giving money to charity?);
  • Eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance; 
  • Delay consumption; 
  • Consider how peripheral features of your purchases may affect your day-to-day life;
  • Beware of comparison shopping; and
  • Pay close attention to the happiness of others.
(Yes, you might recall that I'm not actually that happy lately, but happiness is not necessarily something over which you have complete control. I'm sure I would be even more unhappy if I lost the ability to savour the mundane pleasures of life.)

Speaking of The Happiness Project...

Did you read my post from yesterday? And did you click on the link to The Happiness Project above? Did you see it? The William James quote? What uncanny timing, eh?!  


I really love baby beetroot. 


Dina said...

I think that makes a lot of sense. It kind of explains to me why I'm happy a lot. I DO find joy in small getting a new book. One day I woke up super happy, just because I knew we had some good leftovers in the fridge.

Anyway, glad you found science to back up what you already knew : )

Julian said...

Looks like a good argument to me. A continuous stream of small things rather than the occasional large thing does make sense. Also, numbing yourself to the smaller things because you can always buy the best of whatever you want follows too.

Reminds me of an article I was reading recently about happiness. One of the main conclusions of a study that spanned x countries was that the average "day-to-day" level of happiness was 7/10, and that this was actually a good thing. It wouldn't be good if we went through our lives constantly on Cloud Nine. I'll send you the link/article when I get a chance.