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.