Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Can Our Daily Activities Make Us Happier Today AND Tomorrow?

The more a person engages in eudaimonic behaviors the happier they are.

There is something rather predictable about being a researcher who studies happiness—when I tell people what I do I tend to hear two questions: (1) how can I increase my happiness? and (2) people do that for a living?

Taking the second question first, yes, you can do that. As for the first question, honestly, I struggle with giving happiness advice. Fortunately, there is pretty solid research on the types of daily behaviors that increase people’s happiness.  

Steger, Kashdan, and Oishi asked people, over a four week period, the types of activities they did each day and their levels of daily well-being, satisfaction, and positive emotions. Their goal was to determine the behaviors which are associated with “the good life” or, at least in this case, the good day.

What’s important are the two categories of behaviors they measured: hedonic experiences and eudaimonic activities.

Hedonic experiences are those types of behaviors we engage in that are really only pleasure-oriented (e.g, getting drunk, watching television or playing video games, buying jewelry or electronics just for yourself, or having sex purely for pleasure).

Whereas eudaimonic activities, which refer to a life lived to its fullest potential, are more pro-social and purpose-oriented (e.g., volunteering, giving money to someone in need, expressing gratitude, listening carefully to another person's point of view).

In general, the more a person engaged in eudaimonic ('good, pro-social') behaviors the higher their daily well-being, satisfaction, and positive emotions were that day. However, engaging in hedonic behaviors did not results in changes in these measures of well-being. Interestingly, there was a carry-over effect in that the previous day’s eudaimonic activities improved the well-being a person experienced the following day.

Why is this? We expect that eudaimonic behaviors are beneficial because they satisfy basic psychological needs (autonomy, relatedness, and competence) which are necessary for ultimate well-being.

Beyond The Purchase is a website dedicated to understanding the psychology behind spending decisions and the relationship between money and happiness. We study how factors like your values and personality interact with spending decisions to affect your happiness. At Beyond The Purchase you can take quizzes that help you understand what motivates your spending decisions, and you’ll get personalized feedback and tips. For example:

How do you score on the five fundamental dimensions of personality? Take our Big Five personality test and find out.

How do you feel about your past, present, and future? Take the Time Attitudes Survey and learn about your relation with time.

How happy are your Facebook updates? We can analyze your last 25 Facebook status updates and determine how happy you have been.

How happy is your subconscious? Take our Happiness IAT and find out.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness. To read more about the connection between money and happiness, go to the Beyond the Purchase blog.

This post is based on the following article: Being good by doing good: Daily eudaimonic activity and well-being, by M. Steger, T. Kashdan, S. Oishi (2008) in the Journal of Research in Personality.

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

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