In a new study, published in the current issue of Psychological Science, Jordi Quoidbach and three colleagues demonstrate that money—even the thought of it—undermines life’s simple pleasures. Specifically, the authors found that wealthier people were less able than poorer ones to savor, to enhance and prolong positive emotional feelings such as joy, awe, excitement, contentment, pride, and gratitude, and that this “negative impact of wealth on individuals’ ability to savor undermined the positive effects of money on their happiness.” They also found that even the thought of money reduced the ability to savor.
Though the idea is scarcely a new one—the Quakers preached it, and so did Thoreau—this is the first solid evidence for its truth. Participants in the study included 374 university-connected adults, ranging from custodial staff to senior administrators; they were divided into two randomly assigned groups. The first group was shown a picture of a pile of money and then given psychological tests that measured savoring ability. The second group was shown the same picture, but blurred beyond recognition; they, too, then got the psychological test. The group who’d seen the clear picture of money demonstrated a substantially lesser ability to savor than the blurred picture subjects.
A second phase of the study was even more striking. This time, both groups were given a piece of chocolate after seeing either the clear picture of money or the blurred one. Independent observers, blind to group affiliation, watched and rated each subject on the length and apparent intensity of his or her savoring. Again, there was a significant difference. Those who’d been shown the clear picture of money spent an average 32 seconds savoring the chocolate, while those with the blurred picture only savored it an average of 45 seconds. Moreover, the blurred group showed a distinctly greater intensity. The study’s authors conclude that “having access to the best things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures.
Good to remember the next time you’re contemplating that luxury item you can’t afford, don’t need, and probably won’t use.
Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence.