When Money Buys Happiness (or Not)

After discussing consumer signalling and Geoffrey Miller’s Spent in his Findings column (mentioned previously), readers of John Tierney’s Lab were asked,

List the ten most expensive things (products, services or experiences) that you have ever paid for (including houses, cars, university degrees, marriage ceremonies, divorce settlements and taxes). Then, list the ten items that you have ever bought that gave you the most happiness. Count how many items appear on both lists.

Dismissing for a moment the self-selection of the participants and the small sample size, the responses to the question are quite intriguing, showing you what consumer items are worth their cost in terms of ‘happiness’, and what items aren’t.

  • Expensive items that don’t significantly contribute to happiness: marriage ceremonies, most cars, boats.
  • Inexpensive items that do significantly contribute to happiness: meals with friends, alcohol, books, music, quality beds, pets, bicycles.
  • Items that are both (expensive and contributory to overall happiness): education, housing, foreign travel, electronics and sports cars.

Dr Miller’s analysis of the experiment’s trends is worth reading, as is this previous post on the link between money and happiness.