The Secret of Happiness – Revealed!

Well! That takes care of that! Chalk one off your list of “deep questions I’d like to have answered”: the leading Danish daily Politiken recently came out with an article, from reporter Vinni Yang Søgaard*, called How to buy yourself to happiness. The lede:

You can buy yourself a happier life – it’s merely a matter of using your money right, new research shows.

So what’s the secret? Well, let’s get one thing straight first: this article is not about Ms. Søgaard’s ruminations on this subject, but rather her reporting on the research of psychology Professor Ryan Howell from San Francisco State University. Actually, let’s get two things straight: that old saw that money per se does not bring happiness is actually true, that is, you can be perfectly happy with less money.

Right, right – so what’s the secret? Well, the key is “experiences, not possessions.” It’s not things that will make you happy; it’s experiences – like going to a play, eating at a restaurant, and travel, especially travel – that will do that, particularly when undertaken as a social activity together with family and/or friends. “Life-experiences namely provide a feeling of solidarity and of being alive,” Søgaard writes. They fulfill a person’s higher needs beyond the basics of food, shelter, and security – shades here of Maslow, although his name is nowhere explicitly mentioned – higher needs, however, which must be met for a person to count him/herself as truly happy.

The point is stockpiling happy memories, which will stay with you for a long time (you “store” them, according to Prof. Howell), certainly for a longer time than the pleasure you derive from merely gaining possession of some new thing, no matter what it is (even your very own “McMansion,” I suppose). As for money, it is useful only as a means to gain these sorts of long-to-be-remembered experiences; any mistaken reverence money per se has gained for itself is a misunderstanding, as it is only good for that (and, of course, for handling those “lower” needs).

So there you have it! Now that we have all seen the light, I look forward to running into you in short order somewhere in the Swiss Alps, joining me in some BASE jumping (that’s hurtling off of high cliffs with only a parachute).

* By the way, I intend to inform Ms. Søgaard about this blog-post (as I usually do when the reporter’s e-mail address is made available; Danish papers are particularly good in this regard), and will add the recommendation that she officially change her name very, very slightly to “Yinni Yang Søgaard.” Besides being much cooler, that also seems to me the sort of name she should really carry if she intends to go around writing articles on deep questions of philosophy.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is a tad late, but offers here his own commentary on this study.

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