Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Want to Spoil Your Happiness? Think About Money

by Nomad

In a search for true happiness, thoughts of money are a killjoy.

If you are- for some obscure reason- eager to ruin whatever bit of joy that life has to offer, an article from last May's Psychological Science has some advice. 
Think about money.

Studies have demonstrated that the level of happiness is dependent on that person's ability to appreciate and savor their experiences.  How much happiness you derive from living depends on what degree you are able to extract joy, awe, excitement, and gratitude- the full range of emotions- before, during and after your experiences. 

Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach and his research team from the University of Liege in Belguim devised an experiment involving nearly 400 adults coming from diverse backgrounds.
The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group was shown an image of a stack of money while the other group was shown the same image blurred beyond recognition. Both groups were given psychological tests to rate their ability to savor pleasant experiences in general. 

As described in their academic paper, their paper, Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness, the researchers found that people who had been shown photos of money scored significantly lower on the tests.

In another experiment, the two groups were shown the same photos (a clearly-focused image of cash or an out of focused image). The two groups were then  given a piece of chocolate. Individuals were afterward asked to time the duration of pleasure they received from the treat. 
Although women, by and large, tended to enjoy the chocolate longer than men (no surprise there) those participants that had been shown the money image, regardless of gender, all had a shorter duration of pleasure.  

Analyzing the results, psychologists observed that
"a reminder of wealth led participants to devote less time tosavoring a piece of chocolate and to exhibit reduced enjoy-ment from this small pleasure of everyday life."
According to their paper, Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness  also concluded that
"what money gives with one hand- access to pleasurable experiences- it takes away with the other by robbing people of the ability to appreciate simple joys."
The question is: why? Perhaps it has something to do with distraction.
Savoring pleasure requires that we concentrate on the moment as it comes, whereas money focuses our attention on, among other things, gathering more of and protecting this resource. 

American psychologist, professor, and author Edward Diener has looked into this question and says a pure materialist approach can promote unhappiness "because it takes time away from the things that can nurture happiness, including relationships with family and friends."
Even thinking about money, it appears, warps our capacity for meaningful experiences. 

Besides dulling our capacity to experience happiness, the thought of money can also have other negative effects on human behavior.
Studies by Harvard and the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business suggest that morality can be adversely affected by the mere thought of money. After participants were exposed to money-related words, they were more likely to lie or behave unethically.

University of Utah associate management professor Kristin Smith-Crowe, one of the study's co-authors, explained:
“Even if we are well intentioned, even if we think we know right from wrong, there may be factors influencing our decisions and behaviors that we’re not aware of."
If all that wasn't enough, there's also the well-known addictive effect of money. If money were a drug, it would probably be a banned substance. One former hedge fund manager, Sam Polk, said in a radio interview:
"The idea that wealth is an addiction is a really scary one because we actually exist in a culture where there's no consequences. We live in a culture that promotes this wealth addiction. The bigger that addiction gets, the more adulation, the more support, the more TV articles, the more radio interviews people get. That's really the scary thing."
However, if the psychologists are correct, there are consequences: A lot of comforts but far less happiness in life.

The next time you come across at a pleasure-spoiling hundred dollar bill try to remember what Benjamin Franklin once said:
Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.