With the fermented angst of society over bank bailouts, the über-wealth of the 1 percent, and sky-rocketing unemployment rates, as well as articles on the Internet titled thusly: ‘4 Ways You Can Tell the Economy Still Sucks,’ its time to look at some cold hard, scientific facts that may help ease the pain. Money can’t buy happiness, and people who are happy are healthier.
The wealthy are indeed getting wealthier and the Rio Grand sized gap between the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ is ridiculous, but let’s look on the bright side as we sort out this inequality. An international team of researchers led by Jordi Quoidbach published a piece in an issue of Psychological Science stating that although wealth may grant us opportunities to purchase many items, from experiences to consumer goods, it simultaneously impairs our ability to take pleasure in those very same things.
The researchers first conducted a study with employees at the University of Liège in Belgium. They found that the wealthier they were, the less likely they were to display the ability to savor an experience. Even more interesting is that just looking at a big stack of money (in this case it was Euros) dampened their ability to enjoy things that that stack of money would allow them to experience.
The second part of the same study, conducted by Quoidbach, recruited participants ranging in age from 16 to 59 from the University of British Columbia campus to taste chocolate and report on their experience. Before eating the chocolate – a task almost universally deemed pleasant, they were asked to take a questionnaire. Half of the participants in the study had a page inadvertently inserted into the questions, of a picture of Canadian money, and the other half included a neutral picture.
Although the picture of money was supposedly irrelevant, and should have only elicited a cursory glance, it changed the participant’s behavior, subconsciously reminding them of money and impeding their ability to enjoy the chocolate that was offered to them after filling out the questionnaire.
The researchers explained that wealth allows people the ability to experience the ‘finest’ of everything, but inhibits their ability to enjoy simple pleasures, like a sunset, a perfect flower, or, in this case, the taste of chocolate. If you eat foie gras all day and fly around in a private jet, how can you, as easily, revel in your best friend’s laugh, or the way water ripples from a singular point outward from a pebble thrown across a mirrored lake.
Yet another study proved that lottery winners who raked in winnings of $50,000 or more were less impressed with life’s sunsets and quiet breezes – all the simple luxuries of human existence. The next time you bemoan not winning a million dollars, or the man driving next to you in a custom Maserati, just remember that you have a greater ability to enjoy some of the uncomplicated, seemingly trivial moments others take for granted.
Enjoy these moments to the fullest – your happiness, and your health depend on it.