“Tis the gift to be simple,” the Quakers sing. A century later Paul McCartney echoes the refrain, “Money can’t buy me love.” Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks take vows of poverty. “Simplify. Simplify.” Henry David Thoreau preaches.
The belief that money erodes happiness is a persistent theme running through centuries of the world’s philosophers, religions, and cultural leaders. Why? If money is so desirable, how could it possibly spoil happiness? A new scientific study published in the current issue of Psychological Science by Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues, proves the Quaker philosophy is correct. Money—even the thought of it—reduces the satisfaction of life’s simple pleasures.
Previous studies have shown, and this study confirms, that there is a correlation between a person’s wealth and decreased ability to savor pleasant experiences. To investigate this puzzling correlation, 374 adults, ranging from custodial staff to senior administrators, were divided into two randomly assigned groups. The first group was shown a picture of a stack of money, and the control group was shown the same picture blurred beyond recognition. Then the participants were given psychological tests to measure savoring ability, happiness, and desire for wealth. The results showed that the subjects who were shown the money beforehand scored significantly lower ability to savor pleasant experiences. Just the thought of money had diminished their ability to appreciate and savor pleasant experiences.
Savoring is the emotion of positive feelings, such as joy, awe, excitement, contentment, pride, and gratitude derived during an experience, and the researchers found that one’s ability to savor predicts their degree of happiness. A second test showed the spoiling effect of money on savoring even more dramatically. Participants were given a piece of chocolate after being shown the picture of money or a blurred photo. Then an observer, who could not see what picture the subject had been shown, clicked a stopwatch and timed how long the person savored the morsel of chocolate. Women, not too surprisingly, savored the chocolate significantly longer than men, but regardless of gender, those shown the picture of money before they were handed the piece of chocolate spent significantly less time savoring the chocolate—32 seconds versus 45 seconds on average. A simple reminder of wealth can significantly diminish the pleasant experience.
The authors conclude that access to the best things money can buy undermines one’s ability to savor life’s simple pleasures. Remarkably, even a subtle reminder of the prospect of wealth can diminish one’s satisfaction with life’s simple pleasures.
As the world’s economy weakens and personal wealth diminishes, it is heartening to consider what this experiment shows: What money gives with one hand—access to pleasurable experience—it takes away with the other by robbing our ability to appreciate simple joys. Something to think about the next time you are considering spending cash at an expensive five-star restaurant or spending a sunny afternoon at a picnic with a bottle of cold wine, a crusty loaf of French bread, and the tangy sweetness of cheese…topped off, of course with a bite of chocolate.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –Jesus in Luke 12:22-34.
“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied …money can’t buy me love”–Paul McCartney