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More on Money and Happiness | Big Questions Online

Some things to think about here. I’ve often half-joked that all I’ve ever wanted was for someone to PROVE to me that money can’t make me happy. But the real truth is, maximizing your happiness isn’t about how much you money you have, but how you invest it to get more of the things and experiences that make you happy.

More on Money and Happiness | Big Questions Online

[Elizabeth] Dunn is a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia, and in a new paper, she’s teamed up with Dan Gilbert of Harvard University and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia to show us how we can spend our money to better maximize our happiness.

According to them, money “can buy many, if not most, if not all of the things that make people happy, and if it doesn’t, then the fault is ours.” Because, they say, we’re not spending it right.

The problem, they argue, is that:

Most people don’t know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don’t know how to use their money to acquire it. … Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t.


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  1. Interesting article. Thanks for passing it along.

  2. Hmmm. This sounds, at first blush, like a “blame the victim” issue. I have not yet read the entire article, however. I just hope it addresses the fact that some (fairly large) chunk of society is busy down at Maslow’s first level, survival. And being happy while trying to eke out a survivable existence is a much bigger job than being happy while you have a secure shelter & clothing, secure food supply, and secure healthcare.

  3. Here’s my take….

    Happiness is wanting what you have…
    Success is getting what you want…

    You may also find this TED talk interesting. Barry and I had a fun discussion about this concept (as discussed in the talk) at OVFF 😉

  4. I start to get seriously suspicious whenever I hear phrases like “basic scientific facts about happiness”.

    Largely because I am not remotely convinced that there are any.

    • Ditto, and having looked through her article I’m not convinced that she has any (“basic scientific facts about happiness”) either. Rating things on a scale is all very well, but it is completely subjective and what makes one person (or a particular group) happy may be a definite turn-off for others. For instance, reading and listening to music came low on the “positive happiness” scale in her research; I guess she didn’t ask many filkers. But “making love” scored highly (ya think?), perhaps the hippies had the right idea…

      I also thought that it seemed a “blame the victim” approach — if you aren’t happy, it’s your own fault. Yes, simple: if they only wanted less and spent their money more wisely everyone would be happy. No one actually needs things like a lover or a house or food anyway, right?

      Some of the things seem to contradict each other. On one hand, go for experiences rather than things (hmm, perhaps I should pay a visit to the “red light” district rather than buying a new hard drive for doing backups?), on another buy things like lattes and chocolate every day instead of saving up for a “big thing” like a filkcon.

      There are other things she seemed not to notice, like “only compare yourself to yourself” (e.g. if I get a new car all that should matter is that it’s better than the old one and fit for my purpose, not whether it is better than the one next door). And that a lot of the reasons why filthy rich people are not much happier than those who are ‘comfortable’ are to do with responsibilities and fear of losing it (as Jubal Harshaw said in “Stranger in a Strange Land”, if you are really rich you worry about people breaking in, your kids being kidnapped for ransom, etc., as well as losing your money in a stock market crash and the like).

  5. Scientific facts about happiness? Gee, that sounds cold. There are some things in that article that I agree with, but I mostly disagree with its whole tone and attitude.

    Money can’t really buy happiness, but a lack of money tends to lead to unhappiness. Happiness comes from within and not being secure in having the basic necessities often prevents people from being able to generate happiness. So do brain chemistry issues like clinical depression. Once people have enough money to not have to worry about basic needs, I believe that the way they think is the more important factor. That can affect how they choose to spend their money, but I think putting the blame on how they spend their money once their basic needs are met is confusing cause and affect to some extent and it is largely avoiding the real issue of why people are still unhappy after spending their money the way they choose.

    I’ve been intending to make a post about my ideas on how to be happy for quite some time now. Maybe I’ll get around to doing it soon.

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