Happiness is Flow

Can you buy happiness? Any number of proverbs will tell you that money is not enough and there are certainly plenty of historical anecdotes of rich people who found bad ends. Yet intuition suggests that this is absurd! So many problems are caused by a lack of money from the stress of insecurity to untreated health issues that worsen over time. These are hurts that the rich don’t suffer so if they’re not happy then perhaps its that they don’t know how to use their money well. Dunn, Gilbert, and Wilson are here to offer those guidelines. In “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right” they come up with eight. These are in the paper’s abstract so let’s just look at them up front.

  1. buy more experiences and fewer material goods
  2. use their money to benefit others rather than themselves
  3. buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones
  4. eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance
  5. delay consumption
  6. consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives
  7. beware of comparison shopping
  8. pay close attention to the happiness of others.

These rules are drawn from a variety of studies over ‘representative’ populations of North Americans. So feel free to apply your skepticism of meta-studies. Feel free to adjust for the distortions of Canadian and US culture. And don’t assume that I’ve done any work to check that this paper represents any kind of scientific consensus.

Divided attention is the enemy. I don’t know that entering flow is necessary for happiness but apathy will be anathema. Passion is correlated and aimless drifting is counterproductive.

I can’t remember where I first read that money originated not as a proxy for bartering but as a marker of a lack of debt. Very like a pension in a way. This suggests that the primary purpose of money is to ward off uncertainty. Fear of unknown change is certainly going to get in the way of your hedonism.

How easily we adjust to our changed circumstances. This suggests investing in a large quantity of good things is wise. Don’t settle with what you have but keep forcing (controlled) changes.

Remember our peak-end rule of pain. The intensity of the experience is the average of the highest point and the final point. So choose the longer, less powerful pain when possible.

I encourage you to read the article yourself. These points are not all obvious.


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