Money May Not Allow You to Appreciate the Small Things

The belief that money impairs people’s ability to enjoy and savor small pleasures, experiences and positive emotions was tested in this first-of-its-kind study. Richer people reported a lower ability to enjoy, boost and prolong a happy experience. Exposing people to images that reminded them of wealth reduced their enjoyment of simple pleasures such as eating chocolate. This study provides evidence in support of the belief that when one can buy the best things in life, one loses the ability to enjoy everyday pleasures.

The relationship between money and happiness has been investigated often. Income has been shown to marginally affect happiness. The experience-stretching hypothesis suggests that experiencing the best things that money can buy, like eating at an expensive restaurant, lessens the enjoyment of every-day experiences, such as a sunny day. Even the imagination of wealth results in the desire for rich experiences and reduces the appreciation of simpler experiences. This is called “priming with the idea of money.” When one is savoring an experience, one shows happiness non-verbally, wants to continue the experience, thinks about it before and after, and talks about it to others. The present study reconfirms the observation that income and the ability to savor a positive experience are negatively correlated.

* In one experiment, 351 working adults participated. Half were primed with the idea of wealth by displaying pictures of money on their questionnaire. The remaining participants were given a questionnaire with a blurred and unrecognizable picture of money.
* The questionnaire was designed to measure the savoring ability, current wealth, happiness and longing for affluence.
* The ability to enjoy was tested by presentation of six situations and asking the subjects to choose from eight possible reactions. A standard seven-point-scale was used to measure happiness. Desire for wealth was gauged with questions about a hypothetical lottery and an ideal salary. Income and savings were also recorded.
* The second experiment involved 40 participants who volunteered for a taste test. The participants were unaware that this test was designed to evaluate the effect of money on their savoring behavior. Some were shown a picture of money. Each was given a chocolate and asked to answer a questionnaire.
* The time they spent eating, their behavior and their display of enjoyment were recorded.

* Savoring pleasant situations was reduced in those who had more wealth. Experimental exposure to wealth through pictures resulted in lack of appreciation of mundane pleasures.
* It wasn’t possible to predict if a greater ability to savor increases contentment with the current situation.
* Wealth negatively correlates with savoring ability, which positively correlates with happiness. As expected, this resulted in wealth negatively affecting happiness.
* Those who were primed with pictures of money spent less time eating and enjoying chocolate.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Though this study provided the first evidence that money lowered the ability to savor small pleasures, it did not capture the relationship between wealth and savoring positive experiences from the past. That is, it isn’t possible to say if wealthy people savor their past experiences more when reminiscing about them.This study paves the way for future studies on the relationship between wealth and happiness.

Imagining money is enough to increase expectations and reduce enjoyment. Wealthier people report a reduction in their ability to be happy and enjoy small things in life. Having money may reduce enjoyment from simple delights. Thus, the ability to afford experiences that are more expensive reduces the ability to appreciate simple, every-day, non-expensive pleasant occurrences. On one hand, money provides emotional benefits by giving easy access to pleasurable experiences. On the other hand, it diminishes the ability to relish small pleasures of daily life. Thus, money gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

For More Information:
Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness
Publication Journal: Psychological Science, 2010
By Jordi Quoidbach; Elizabeth W. Dunn; The University of Liège, Belgium and University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

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