Money Observer: Why money buys happiness sometimes

Literary critics are not usually known for their views on money. But the German critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki supposedly said that ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness, but if you’re sad, it’s better to cry in a cab than on a tram.’ This seems logical, and yet it may depend on whether or not you’re an introvert.

The relationship between money and happiness has spawned many theories. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton found that self-reported levels of wellbeing only increased up to a salary of £50,000 a year.

A group of researchers from Harvard Business School gave participants either $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or to give away; those who spent it on someone else were found to be happier.

Other research found that spending money on experiences results in greater happiness than buying stuff. So far, so good.

A new study by Professor Joe Gladstone argues that what it actually comes down to is character traits such as openness, conscientiousness, extroversion and neuroticism.

Gladstone considered 59 product categories including books, coffeeshops, health insurance, pets, dental care and clothes. Then he asked a group of participants to characterise these products as if they were people.

The group decided that pubs are outgoing and not very self-controlled. Home insurance is conservative and not easy-going.  Books are artistic, self-controlled, compassionate and neurotic, while traffic fines and gambling are very antagonistic.

Gladstone then established the degree of similarity between each participants’ personality and their shopping basket’s character.

He found that ‘personality-matched purchases are related to increased life satisfaction’. That doesn’t mean introverts experience more life satisfaction when they spend on home insurance. But introverts might be less trouble than extroverts when they have to spend money on accountants’ fees; and maybe they’re happier crying in cabs too.

This column was originally published as part of Marina’s Imaginary Millions in Money Observer, December 2017.

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