Turns out money can buy happiness

As you can see in the video below, I was petrified.

So what made me think the trapeze could help me figure out if money can buy happiness?

It’s something I learned while recording the latest episode of my podcast, “Margins of Error”. I went to different sources to determine if money can buy happiness.

First, I went to my friend Clara, who grew up without having much. “Money can’t buy happiness,” she told me, “but money can solve a lot of our problems and troubles.”

I also looked at a 2010 Princeton University study that was once the final word on the subject, which indicated that money can make you happier, but not beyond an income of $75,000. .
Then came a 2021 study by Matthew Killingsworth, a principal investigator at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Killingsworth collected data over a seven-year period in real time from tens of thousands of people across a wide range of incomes – from people earning minimum wage to those earning more than $500,000 a year. He asked people to rate their level of happiness on a continuous scale.

The steps Killingsworth took made his experience different from others before him, including the earlier Princeton study. He found that your level of day-to-day happiness increases when you earn more money. It may surprise you considering that one study found that only one-fifth of Americans believe that money can buy happiness.

Unlike the Princeton researchers, Killingsworth found that money was correlated with happiness, regardless of your income level.

“Every dollar buys a little less happiness,” he noted. “So if someone making $20,000 a year gets a 10% raise, someone making $200,000 gets a 10% raise, this data predicts that will bring the same increase in happiness.”

In other words, getting $100 more means more to someone making $20,000 than $200,000 because it’s a higher percentage of that person’s income.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a difference between day-to-day happiness and overall life satisfaction – the latter of which sees a big spike once you cross the poverty line.

Killingsworth cautions against spending all your time trying to make more money. People who “defined their personal success in terms of money, tended to be less happy on average,” he told me. “You want to have it, but you don’t want to worry too much about it.”

He led me to Elizabeth Dunn, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and scientific director of Happy Money, a fintech company that helps people get personal loans.

I wanted her to help me figure out how to get the most out of the money we’re already making, so we can be a little less obsessed with making more. His first piece of advice is why I decided to do trapeze. She told me we should buy experiences instead of items.

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Dunn’s research indicates that “experiences often connect us with other people we care about. So if you’re going on a trip or going out for a special meal, it usually won’t be all alone and… it will help enrich your relationships.”

But perhaps more instrumental in explaining why I did the trapeze, Dunn noted that “experiences seem to be more deeply tied to our sense of self.” When people look back on their spending on experiences, “they tend to think it’s more about who they are.”

Did buying an experience instead of an item allow me to reach a higher level of happiness? Yes, actually, although I hate heights.

I watched the video of me on the trapeze a number of times. I shared this clip with some of my friends and told the story of flying through the air to many.

It truly is a gift that keeps on giving. I didn’t just buy an experience; I bought a story that I could share again and again. I think the trapeze experience got better the further I got away from it. There’s a real sense of nostalgia, even though it was only a few weeks ago.

So how can you make the most of the money you’re already making beyond just the shopping experience? Dunn has a bunch of other tips, but you’ll have to tune into the podcast to hear them.


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