Buying Happiness

In his book 59 Seconds Richard Wiseman examines people’s attempts to buy happiness. He takes a scientific approach to the question by studying academic experiments aimed at studying how money impacts happiness, and if purchases can really increase happiness.  Wiseman also considered how long different types of purchases will sustain your happiness in an attempt to find the best way to spend your extra money. An experiment by psychologists Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich served as the base for Wiseman’s research, and not surprisingly, Wiseman found that experiences made people happier for longer periods of time.  Van Boven and Gilovich asked people to rate the way an act of purchasing an item made them feel at that moment, and how they felt later on. Wiseman summarizes why purchasing experiences had a greater happiness factor than purchasing items,


“Our memory of experiences easily becomes distorted over time (you edit out the terrible trip on the airplane and just remember those blissful moments relaxing on the beach).  Our goods however tend to lose their appeal by becoming old, worn-out, and outdated.  Also, experiences promote one of the most effective happiness-inducing behaviors — Spending time with others.  Sociability might be part of the experience itself, or it might happen when you tell people about the occasion afterward.  In contrast, buying the latest or most expensive new product can sometimes isolate you from friends and family who may be jealous of the things that you have.”


Wiseman shows that the best way to be happy is to connect with others, and that those who emphasize material gains risk pushing others away.  He continues on in his book to explain the differences between highly materialistically driven individuals and those who are not as driven by material goals.  Those who view success as a community effort are more likely to want to spend time with those around them and also enjoy the successes of others as much as their own.  These people are more likely to spend their money on others or group experiences that bring people together instead of purchasing personal items. Wiseman and the research he studied suggested that this use of money will help connect people and build positive memories of the past. Buying fancy items however will lead to decreased happiness in the long run with the item purchased becoming worn out or out of style and serving as a constant reminder of the money that went toward the purchase.