Money can’t buy happiness. Or can it? The TierneyLab blog from The New York Times recently conducted an informal survey. Based on Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior, a new book from Dr. Geoffrey Miller, readers were invited to:

List the ten most expensive things (products, services or experiences) that you have ever paid for (including houses, cars, university degrees, marriage ceremonies, divorce settlements and taxes). Then, list the ten items that you have ever bought that gave you the most happiness. Count how many items appear on both lists.

Yesterday’s TierneyLab column examined the responses. The results are fascinating. Things appearing much more often on ‘expensive’ lists than ‘happy’ lists include:

  • children
  • marriage ceremonies
  • divorces
  • taxes
  • most cars
  • boats

Items that were on far more ‘happy’ lists than ‘expensive’ lists included:

  • meals with friends
  • alcohol
  • bicycles
  • pets
  • hobbies
  • adult education
  • church and charity
  • books, music, artwork
  • quality beds

And, finally, there was some overlap where things were both expensive and fulfilling. These include:

  • houses
  • higher education
  • travel
  • electronics
  • certain vehicles

Obviously, these results are not scientific in any way. But they’re interesting.

For myself, I was hard pressed to list ten items on each side. I just listed six or seven. Believe it or not, my Mini Cooper makes both lists. So does our current home. (If I had paid for college, that would have definitely made both lists; I was fortunate to attend on scholarship.) Other than that, though, there’s not a clear relationship between money spent and happiness received.

Dr. Miller offered a brief analysis of the survey results, noting a handful of trends, including:

  • For many, there is an overlap between expensive purchases and happiness.
  • Many people — including myself — find that paying for experiences is more likely to bring happiness than buying physical Stuff.
  • Many commenters emphasized the value of thrift in daily life so they could afford to spend on the things that mattered.
  • Some people noted that the act of saving money for the future brings them happiness.

If you find this topic as interesting as I do, I recommend you read the full post, which contains a lot of additional information and a fuller analysis. Also, the comments on the article are quite good.

[TierneyLab at The New York Times: When money buys happiness, via e-mail from Robin B.]

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