Skip to content

    Health & Balance

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Spend Your Way to Happiness?

    Money and happiness: 5 ways your spending style matters.
    By
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    “Money can’t buy me love,” the Beatles once sang. But can greenbacks buy a measure of happiness?

    Yes, psychologists say, but many people don’t know how to spend for maximum happiness.

    “Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t,” says Elizabeth W. Dunn, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Canada's University of British Columbia.

    As a young academic, Dunn had a personal stake in figuring out how to best spend one’s money. “I went from being a graduate student, making around $20,000 a year, to being a faculty member. While most people don’t think of professors as being wealthy, I suddenly found myself like ‘the nouveau riche,’ with a lot more money than I had previously,” she tells WebMD.

    Being a psychology researcher, she sought scientifically based advice on how to spend her money -- not in terms of making financial investments, but to boost life satisfaction. “I was surprised to find out there was actually very little research on that topic,” she says.

    As she delved into the subject, she discovered that people often misjudge purchases on three counts: “People mispredict what will make them happy, how happy it will make them, and how long that happiness will last.”

    Puddles of Pleasure, Peaks of Presumption

    Other experts agree with Dunn’s view. Purchases, such as a remodeled bathroom or a new couch, may bestow delight, but the pleasure often vanishes faster than people expect -- “like a springtime puddle evaporates under a stifling summer sun,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

    Take that remodeled bathroom, for example. At first, it’s a joy, but those positive feelings dwindle until the bathroom becomes ordinary and “completely fades into the background of one’s conscious experience," Lyubomirsky says.

    Furthermore, all those sparkling, new bath fixtures may heighten expectations and desires, creating a “lofty peak of presumption” that drives people to become dissatisfied and strive for more and more, Lyubomirsky says. “After one finishes remodeling one’s bathroom, the living room and bedroom now seem drab by comparison. People’s rising aspirations render rooms eyesores that were previously normal.”

    1 | 2 | 3 | 4

    Today on WebMD

    woman in yoga class
    6 health benefits of yoga.
    beautiful girl lying down of grass
    10 relaxation techniques to try.
     
    mature woman with glass of water
    Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
    coffee beans in shape of mug
    Get the facts.
     
    Take your medication
    Slideshow
    Hand appearing to hold the sun
    Article
     
    Hungover man
    Slideshow
    Welcome mat and wellington boots
    Slideshow
     
    Woman worn out on couch
    Article
    Happy and sad faces
    Quiz
     
    Fingertip with string tied in a bow
    Article
    laughing family
    Quiz