In the study “Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness”, published in the June edition of Psychological Science, the authors tested the effect of wealth on the ability to savor or enjoy simple mundane experiences. Wealthier participants consistently associated less contentment with pleasurable activities like finishing a task, a weekend away, or savoring a piece of chocolate than their less-well-off counterparts. Interestingly, the same effects could be produced just by showing the participants pictures of money before asking them to perform the test. Just seeing pictures of Euros or dollar bills had a negative effect on the contentment ratings associated with each “pleasurable” experience, regardless of the true financial status of the test subject.
Perhaps this is just another study proving something that we should already have known. After all, once you have experienced steak, spam doesn’t taste quite the same. Access to more of the finer things, or just to something better than we are used to, does tend to change our perspective. It raises the bar on how we rate other experiences. However, a somewhat depressing conclusion of this study is that access to some of the good things can actually spoil our enjoyment of simple, everyday pleasures:
Taken together, our findings provide evidence for the provocative notion that having access to the best things in life may actually undermine one’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures.
In a Wired Science article on the same subject, Jonah Lehrer has given an excellent and thought-provoking summary of this study. In his conclusion he raises the point that true contentment comes from things that money can’t buy. One of the commenters on his article made this telling remark:
The more we indulge desire, the more there’s no end to it. Discovering satisfaction – the ability to appreciate all we already have – is revolutionary.
I don’t think I can add anything to that.
Here’s the paper:
Quoidbach J, Dunn EW, Petrides KV, & Mikolajczak M (2010). Money giveth, money taketh away: the dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (6), 759-63 PMID: 20483819