Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

What kind of paradise are you looking for?

Appreciating (not wanting) improves happiness.

Veruca Salt
"What kind of paradise am I looking for? I've got everything I want and I still want more."

Ani DiFranco (2001)

Let me ask you a question: have you ever gone to a store or the mall and found yourself wanting to buy something even though at home you already had an older version of what you wanted? Maybe you had the iPad 1 when you decided you wanted the iPad 2. Or Maybe you wanted to buy a flat-screen T.V. when at home you already had a perfectly good T.V. Given that 98% of Americans own a T.V., and most homes have more T.V.s than people, it is likely that most people purchased a flat-screen T.V. when they already owned another T.V.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion concerning the impact of the perceived obsolescence of last year's fad on our happiness and overall well-being. You may have seen The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, where she shows that marketing campaigns try to convince people that they will be socially isolated or low on the social totem pole if they do not buy the latest technology. However, until recently, there had been little research on the emotional costs of wanting more.

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In the article "Wanting More Than You Have and its Consequences for Well-Being", psychologists J. Ian Norris and Jeff Larsen determined to test if wanting more is related to happiness.  In their study, people took several surveys: the Satisfaction with Life Scale, a Consumer Values Orientation Scale, and answered questions about wanting more material items than what one has (such as clothing, electronics and video games) compared to wanting what one already has. Norris and Larsen found that wanting more is related to less well-being. However, interestingly, they also found that "wanting more than one has and wanting what one has are distinct constructs, and that wanting what one has moderates the relationship between wanting more and well-being. Those who want more are less happy only if they also do not want what they have." So, as long as a person appreciates their current possessions, wanting does not seem to be harmful to well-being.

At BeyondThePurchase.Org we help people understand the relationship between money and happiness. To better understand the benefits of specific consumer choices, we continue to investigate the relationships between consumer preferences, psychological needs, happiness, and values at our website by allowing people to take tests on personality. To learn about what might be influencing how you think about and spend your money, register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of our personality quizzes:

Can money buy happiness? Take our experiential buying survey and on your feedback page you will learn how to spend your money to be happier.

How do I find happiness in life? Take our happiness quiz and find out your happiness score.

Is shopping an addiction? Take the compulsive buying scale and learn about your spending habits. We think you may learn a lot about what causes you to part with your hard-earned money.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness. Responses to these surveys will also help researchers further understand the connection between money and happiness.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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