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Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Liege, Belgium, and his colleagues wondered if wealth, because it promises abundant pleasure, might actually weaken the internal sense of scarcity that makes small pleasures possible. They decided to test this idea in the lab.
They recruited a large group of university employees, ranging from deans to janitors. The idea was to get a range of incomes and financial comfort, which they did: Some of the volunteers had socked away 75,000 euros or more, while others had a mere 1,000 euros in savings. They gave all of these volunteers a test that uses vignettes to gauge positive emotions like pride and awe and contentment. For example, the volunteers might be asked to imagine going on a hike and discovering an amazing waterfall. Would they be visibly emotional? Reminisce about the waterfall later? Tell others about the experience? And so on.
The scientists also measured the volunteers’ overall happiness, using a standardized scale, and also their desire for wealth. They measured desire for wealth with this kind of question: “How much money would you have to win in a lottery to live the life of your dreams?”
Then they crunched all the data together to sort out the links between money and happiness and savoring the little things in life. Here’s what they found: The more money people have, the less likely they are to appreciate things like waterfalls or blooming azaleas or quiet weekends. What’s more, cause-and-effect was clear from the data. That is, the ability to savor life’s small pleasures was not diminishing the need or desire for money; it was clearly the other way around.
And overall happiness? That’s the really interesting part. There is a modest relationship between wealth and happiness; that’s not all that surprising. But the inability to appreciate waterfalls undercuts money’s blessings. That is, any positive effects of wealth on happiness were offset by wealth’s deleterious effects on ability to savor life’s pleasures.
These findings reported in the journal Psychological Science, were provocative enough that the researchers wanted to double-check them in a different way. So in a second experiment, . . .
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You can read the entire post, including a description of the second experiment, here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Money and Happiness,” “Receiving by Giving,” and “Something to Smile About.” To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.