Monday, July 16, 2012

Testing the Validity of Perspective

Continuing from last time on the subject of perspective, I expect some people are skeptical about my advice on moderation and gratitude.  Haven’t we been brought up to believe, with few exceptions, that more is better?  As you know, I endorse skepticism, favoring a show-me attitude over the gullibility that we see so often in our society.  (It's a sign of critical thinking.)  Accordingly, here is an article from the NY Times less then two weeks ago with results from several experiments showing the relationship between money and possessions on one hand and happiness on the other.

The article features the results of several experiments and analyses trying to determine this relationship.  The conclusions are very interesting and consistently supportive of the wisdom of using perspective to guide our behavior.  The questions addressed include:  at what point does making more money stop making people happier; how does the way money is spent affect happiness; and how does moderation play into the situation?

Gallup, the polling organization, collected data from nearly half a million Americans finding that “higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.”  Above that point there is no consistent improvement in happiness.  They also noticed that doubling income at lower levels does not double happiness, but does improve it somewhat.  (This represents a very large and significant sample size.)

In answer to the second question, research shows that spending money on yourself, buying the stuff you always wanted, is less effective in terms of making you happier.  They conclude that “you’re better served in many cases by simply buying less — and buying for others.”  Yes, hard to believe but spending money on others and not just buying more stuff often makes people happier.

Other research showed that overindulgence tends to reduce the pleasure associated with an experience, whereas the opposite tends to make that experience more valued.  Getting all you want today decreases the satisfaction of getting more in the future, but limiting quantities today or abstaining for a while will make future experiences more satisfying.   

These findings are interesting, but not surprising.   They merely reinforce the call to exercise perspective as defined last time and in my earlier posts.  It's something we have often heard but easily forget that money can't buy happiness.  As the ancient Greek philosophers and other sources of wisdom reminded us, happiness comes from enjoying "all things in moderation."

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