Cheap Happiness

The following is a summary of a psychology study done in 2010.

Most of us tend to think that if we just had a bit more money we'd get more satisfaction out of life, but on the whole, this turns out not to be true. So why doesn't money make us happier? New research by Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues suggests that the answer lies, at least in part, in how wealthier people lose touch with their ability to savor life's pleasures.

Savoring is a way of increasing and prolonging our positive experiences. Taking time to experience the subtle flavors in a piece of dark chocolate, imaging the fun you'll have on an upcoming vacation (and leafing through your trip photos afterward), telling all your friends on Facebook about the hilarious movie you saw over the weekend - these are all acts of savoring, and they help us to squeeze every bit of joy out of the good things that happen to us.

Why, then, don't wealthier people savor, if it feels so good? It's obviously not for a lack of things to savor. The basic idea is that when you have the money to eat at fancy restaurants every night and buy designer clothes from chic boutiques, those experiences diminish the enjoyment you get out of the simpler, more everyday pleasures, like the smell of a steak sizzling on your backyard grill, or the bargain you got on the sweet little sundress from Target.

Create plans for how to inject more savoring into each day, and you will increase your happiness and well-being much more than (or even despite) your growing riches. And if you're riches aren't actually growing, then savoring is still a great way to truly appreciate what you do have.

J. Quoidbach, E. Dunn, K. Petrides, & M. Mikolajczak (2010) Money giveth, money taketh away: The dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychological Science, 21, 759-763.

My husband and I savor life by sitting in lawn chairs in front of our apartment building under the big tree together. It is very pleasant, especially with the dog and cat out there with us. Justin reads to me, I knit, we chat about books and people we know.

To say that this is a bizarre habit here in Washington, DC is an understatement. No one in NW DC sits on their front lawn and says hello to everybody who walks by. No one in apartment buildings do it, either.

We prefer to treat the lovely lawn in front of our apartment building as our own. And why not? We may be the bizarro middle-aged couple in a rent-controlled student ghetto, but newcomers to DC appreciate that someone is friendly enough to talk to them. We will get the occasional knock on the door asking to borrow a lamp or how to get on the Internet from central European kids upstairs. It's nice.

During Snowmaggedon, we had no Internet or t.v. We entertained each other for two weeks by reading aloud to one another and visiting friends in the neighborhood. Just like on the olden days. And you know what? It worked.

As an avid knitter, I have way too much yarn on hand. Before deciding what to knit next, I lay out the yarns I may want to work with, I look over knitting patterns, I imagine what the finished product will look like. My goal is to make as many gifts as possible, rather than buying them. And to add to my own wardrobe, too. For every friend who has had a baby, I knit a lace baby bonnet and tie it with a satin ribbon. It's a lovely gift and people really like it.

So the savoring has gone up in our lives these past few broke-ass years.

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