Everyone wants to be happy, right? Many economistsbelieve happiness is the prime indicator of the health of a society. Of course, money can make you happier, although not as happy as you might think.So how should we spend our money to maximize our happiness?
You might think that as you get to keep a physical possession for a longer period of time then it’s a better buy! Happier for longer with the new 3D TV’s immersive experience or the super-fast touch screen computer than a fleeting holiday weekend in Prague, however,according to thelatest research, its seems it might not be so simple!
"One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation," says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has studiedthese issues for many years. "We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them."
So Gilovichadvises spending money on experiences like outdoor activities, learning a new skill andtravelling rather than material posessions.
Gilovich'sresearch concerns an idea called the Easterlin paradox, which found that money can buy happiness, but only to a certain level. It seems strange that something physical that you can keep doesn't make you as happy for as long as a distantpast experience does. It seems, however, that the very fact thatphysicalproperty is aroundfor longer actually devalues it to us. Physical possessions quickly become normal whereasour experiences become a part of our history and therefore our identity as a person.
"Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods," says Gilovich. "You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences."
Sharing experiences also brings us closer to other people than sharing physical property. Experiences build relationships firmer than sharing the use of a new TV. Even if you’re not with the other person in questionsimilar separate experiences seems to bring people much closer than owning similar possessions.
"We consume experiences directly with other people," says Gilovich. "And after they're gone, they're part of the stories that we tell to one another."
The research of Gilovich can guide spending to maximize returns on their financial investments in many areas, for example, employers who want a happier workforce, or policy-makers who want a happier society.
"By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness," write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology.
As a society, shouldn't we be making experiences easier for people to have?" asks Gilovich.