I recently did a short piece for ON WISCONSIN about research into spending and happiness.   A lot of studies have been done about how much money it takes to be happy, and the findings often seem to point to some upper limit of money after which more money does not make us happy.

..Is it money or friends that make us happy? (photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/lel4nd/4339847043/

It’s too bad we aren’t more sensitive to this limit because if we were, we wouldn’t be burning up the planet quite so fast in our quest to acquire more, more, more stuff in the mistaken impression that it will make us more, more, more happy.

The researcher I talked with (see article below) was studying what people, in reflection from early retirement age, feel made them most happy, and they tended to highlight recreational spending.

Here’s how it starts….

Can You Buy Happiness?

Denise Thornton ’82, MA’08

A national study links leisure spending to a sense of well-being.

How much cash do you need to be content? The answer may not be based on how you count it, but rather on how you spend it.

Thomas DeLeire, an associate professor of public affairs and population health sciences, decided to sidestep the somewhat abstract controversy over how much income it takes to be happy. “We wanted to drill down a bit and learn what people do with their money that leads to greater happiness,” he says.

Read the rest here.

I would go further out on the limb and say both time and money bring more happiness when they connect us to others.  And that many of the most fulfilling ways to interact are not the big-carbon footprint activities.

Doug and I have had our income radically reduced in the past few years (same old story many others have been through as our economy constricts).  Yet I feel we are at least if not more happy than before.  The money we have spent on classes and community building have definitely make us very happy.

I’m going to take Intermediate Tin Whistle in March!  We are going to the Midwest Organic Farming Conference in February.   I know these expenditures are going to reap high returns in happiness.

What kind of spending makes you happy?

4 replies

  1. Love the thoughts here, we do get so wound up in earning enough and never being able to say when enough is. It is also a mistake to say money does not make people happy, those in dire circumstances would indeed be happier with some extra cash so they don’t have to worry about the bills and be able to feed the children.

    For me sending cash in someone’s direction who I know could do with some extra, especially when they don’t know who sent it. Spending cash on some animals is going to be fun, I’m sure and I love seed catalogues. I also like to spend money on hand crafted products that I know people will enjoy.

    • Yes, the research seems to say that people do need to have their basic needs met, but after that more money does not make one happier. The U.S. is one of the richer countries, but we are not one of the happier ones, according to the happiness survey research.
      But after a certain point (and that is the slippery slope) more money to spend on ourselves doesn’t do the trick.
      I thought the research I wrote about was interesting in showing not how much, but how it is spent that can tie money to happiness — and spending in ways that connect us came out on top.
      Thanks for your perspective, Joanna. I always love to hear from you.

    • I have to agree, Mike. But it’s even better if its spent on ice cream to share. That would be more consistent with the research.

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