Can Money Decrease Joy?

Researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted a study with 350 participants to investigate the relationship between money and enjoying life. The adult participants had salaries ranging from $225,000 to $10,500. They were asked to imagine how they would respond to a range of pleasure yielding experiences such as going on a romantic vacation or discovering a waterfall while hiking.

They were asked to indicate in which ways they would savor the pleasure:

Display positive emotions
Staying in the moment
Sharing the experience
Anticipating or reminiscing about it

Responses from the participants were plotted according to salary levels. The results showed the wealthier people reported savoring the scenarios less. In addition, the participants were shown images of money during the imagining of the two scenarios, and that also decreased the amount of pleasure they enjoyed. A related study showed participants images of money while they were eating chocolate, and the study subjects enjoyed the chocolate less.

Psychology Professor Elizabeth Dunn said of the study, “Our previous research suggested that people tend to spend money on things that don’t make them happy, now we see that the very idea of money can reduce our ability to enjoy the little pleasures of daily life.”

Another recent study suggests there is some happiness related to having money, but the effect is limited. Barbara L. Fredrickson from UNC-Chapel Hill commented on the research, “But positive feelings like enjoyment and laughing can do a whole lot more for people. They can help people grow and learn and become a more resilient, better version of yourself.”

Having enough money to meet one’s needs is a requirement, because stress generally results when things like food, water, shelter and healthcare are missing. However, this research does point to one of the downsides of material excess. Once your needs are met, too much attention on money might be a burden. There is actually a field called happiness economics which attempts to understand the relationship between happiness and money.

Image Credit: emdot

48 comments

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

interesting research

Ann M.
Ann M.4 years ago

Most have never thought of this...at a seminar a guy said 'the Bible says "money answers all things". I had to think about that. And in a way it does. If one uses it correctly. To me, lots of money is for helping others, not owning 65 cars when you can only drive one at a time or having a 50 million dollar mansion, when you are only one person, or being a jackass to people because you are rich. While I am grateful for people like Bill Gates who gives to charities and colleges, there are probably thousands of others who have money that they horde or flaunt and keep because as one filthy rich couple said on TV, "We don't give because we may need our money." They were old enough to have everything on the planet! And there are the Ted Turners of the world! It would be wonderful if money really made one truly happy. But you have to work at it, I suppose. And, alas why do that when you can just wallow in it.

iii q.
g d c.4 years ago

happiness economics??? interesting... ty

Emma S.
Emma S.4 years ago

Maybe the negative associations with money were to do with the thought of its lack - or of having to do lots of accounts and budgeting?

I read a report of an experiment where they looked at lottery winners before and a year after their win. They asked people to rank their happiness out of ten. At the end of the year, people had returned to pretty much the same level they'd been at before. (Mind you, I've never understood how this worked. How did they find people who were going to be lottery winners?)

Ann Eastman
Ann Eastman5 years ago

Interesting article but caution is advisable regarding drawing conclusions from a single study. 350 people is a slim basis on which to categorize "most" people.

Mary B.
Mary B.6 years ago

Of course money can buy happiness. Haveing adequit money equates to freedom from lack.And the freedom to enjoy what you do have, as well as knowing you can have new adventures.Haveing enough money fosters creativity. Everybody should be GIVEN enough money to live on as a base line prosperity in a culture. Our country needs to print money for we the people to circulate from the bottom up, instead of print it for the global banks to loan back to us so we're always living beyond our means, just for necessities. We have been enslaved by this system for centuries so it will take time for people to get past this endoctrinated idea that we have to 'pay back' what we must have to live.

john pierce
John Pierce6 years ago

Thank you!

Nicki R.
Nicki R.6 years ago

This is a case of the haves versus the have-nots. If you're a "have," and all your needs are met, then everything else is fluff and entertainment, and I guess eventually you'd get bored. Lucky you. Sorry, can't relate to that scenario. I'm in the "have-not" category, with never enough money for even basic necessities, so it sounds like a very enviable luxury to me to have so much money that it might cause you unhappiness. A "problem" I'd sign up for in a heartbeat! I'm really sick of the old saying, "Money can't buy happiness." It would buy me peace of mind, a house that wasn't disintegrating, food and desperately needed health care. All those things would make me happy and hugely reduce my stress level.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p.6 years ago

interesting read, thanks