• Just a quick jog on the hedonistic treadmill. ((AAP Image/Dan Peled))
Social scientists offer some answers.
Isabella Kwai

The Atlantic
20 Mar 2017 - 2:47 PM  UPDATED 20 Mar 2017 - 2:56 PM

"There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money,” a character proclaims gloomily in Antigone, but maybe he didn’t know how to use his cash. If we spend it right, research suggests, money can, in fact, buy happiness.

According to one oft-repeated rule of thumb, spending on experiences rather than objects makes us happiest. When asked to reflect on a purchase,  people who described experiential ones—travel, say, or concerts—were much happier than those who described material ones. Psychologists believe the “hedonic treadmill”—our tendency to eventually revert to our original level of happiness following a change—operates more swiftly after material purchases than after experiential ones: A new table is easier to get used to than a trip to Chile. They also say we are better at making peace with bad experiences (“It brought us closer together”) than with regrettable objects.

We are better at making peace with bad experiences than with regrettable objects.

Not all experiences are equally worthwhile, however. In one study, when experiential purchases were categorized as either solitary or social in nature, social expenses brought more happiness. People who spent on solitary experiences valued them no more in hindsight than they valued possessions. It’s not so much that doing things makes us happier than having things—it’s that we like doing things with people.  This is particularly true for extroverts: In one study, they got significantly happier after shopping with others, no matter what they bought.

The Big Five personality traits and what they mean for your spending habits

University of Cambridge researchers joined with a bank to analyze the relationship between customers’ spending habits, personality, and happiness. They found that the “Big Five” personality traits—extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism—predicted spending. Outgoing people splurged on restaurants and entertainment, while self-controlled, conscientious types shelled out for fitness and insurance. And those whose spending fit their personality were happier than those who spent against type. In one case, extroverts and introverts received vouchers for either a bar or a bookstore. Extroverts were happier when forced to spend money at the bar, while introverts were happier spending at the bookstore.

Spend or stinge?

But before you go on a spending spree, a caution: More than income, investments, or debt, the amount of cash in one’s checking account correlates with life satisfaction. That doesn’t mean you should be stingy, though: When people were assigned to buy goodies for either a hospitalized child or themselves, those who bought treats for a sick child reported more positive feelings. The effect was the same in a rich country (Canada) as in a poor one (South Africa). Spending on friends and family likewise gives us a boost because—unsurprisingly—it brings us closer to them.

So how do you turn cash into fun? First, figure out whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. Then, head to a bar, bookstore, or hospital, with a Canadian in tow. There must be a joke in there somewhere.

This article was originally published on theatlantic.com: Click here to view the original. © 2017 All Rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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This article was originally published on The Atlantic. © All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.