Well, It Turns Out That Money Can Buy Happiness After All

Spending can be beneficial if it helps with personal goals
Friends making a toast during a yacht party
FG Trade Latin via Getty Images
Friends making a toast during a yacht party

Can money buy happiness? Well, according to a recent study, it sometimes can.

The debate of whether money can buy happiness has previously surrounded ideas of overconsumption and luxury but in the study, published by The British Psychological Society, researchers instead looked at whether spending money on purchases that help us towards our goals contributes to our overall health and wellbeing.

What exactly is Self-Determination Theory?

This study was based on a principle called Self-Determination Theory. This theory says that goals reflect what our extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are.

An extrinsic motivation is one that is imposed on us by society, such as working hard but not because you’re driven by passion for the work, but instead because you need the money that work provides.

Intrinsic goals, as hinted by the name, stem from our personal motivations. These can include things like helping others, self-care, education, and development.

The study, which involved 452 participants, asked people to describe something they’d spent money on that wasn’t an everyday spend (like bills and food shopping) and then asked to describe the extent to which it helped them fulfil different goals. Participants also noted how much they felt that the purchase contributed to their happiness and life satisfaction.

What the researchers found was that when people spent money in order to achieve an intrinsic goal, they were more likely to experience feelings of well-being and happiness.

Researchers then compared this finding with past research by asking participants to indicate whether their purchase was an experience or a material item. In past research, they had found that participants reported higher well-being from experiences but when researchers looked at both factors together, they still found that how much a purchase reflected intrinsic goals explained the differences in well-being than whether the purchase was material or experiential.

What does this mean for our spending habits?

The author of the study, Olaya Moldes Andrés, previously did research that found that individuals who are frequently exposed to materialistic messages experience lower levels of well-being. This includes, for example, social media advertising.

Andrés recommends that before making a purchase, buyers pause to consider the purpose of the purchase and the benefit it will provide. If it’s driven by the desire to impress others or project a certain image, it may not be worth it in the long run.