How Not To Buy Happiness

Here’s an interesting piece about affluence and happiness. It describes a sort of Prisoner’s Dilemma of spending; there is a competitive pressure to spend money on the trappings of wealth, instead of things that make you happy.

How not to buy happiness, Robert H. Frank


An enduring paradox in the literature on human happiness is that although the rich are significantly happier than the poor within any country at any moment, average happiness levels change very little as people’s incomes rise in tandem over time. Richard Easterlin and others have interpreted these observations to mean that happiness depends on relative rather than absolute income.

In this essay I offer a slightly different interpretation of the evidence — namely, that gains in happiness that might have been expected to result from growth in absolute income have not materialized because of the ways in which people in affluent societies have generally spent their incomes.

Comments (4)

  1. Adina Levin wrote::

    Frank stops too soon (at least in this article). While on average, people in our society trade bigger houses and cars for time with family, friends, and life-enriching pursuits, there are people and subcultures who make other choices. It would be interesting to see if people who make choices based on values other than material envy are happier than others.

    Thursday, August 5, 2004 at 22:31 #
  2. Adina Levin wrote::

    Also, the language of morality makes this issue more tractable. Envy is bad for people.

    Thursday, August 5, 2004 at 22:39 #
  3. wrote::

    How not to buy happiness

    Robert Frank has an article in the journal Daedalus on how not to buy happiness (via Peter). Frank suggests that money can buy you happiness, but only if you spend it correctly: Considerable evidence suggests that if we use an increase in our incomes, …

    Friday, August 6, 2004 at 08:12 #
  4. Money can buy happiness

    [via kottke via Peter Kaminski] Robert Frank writes that money can buy increased happiness if spent not on more expensive goods like bigger houses or more expensive cars but instead on inconspicuous goods, like more time to travel or hang…

    Sunday, August 8, 2004 at 23:35 #