Especially since the advent of the Great Recession a couple of years ago, many people have assumed if they just had a little more money, all would be well in their worlds. Of course in the decades before this economic meltdown, we’d seen huge rises in people’s income, wealth and purchases. During the economic boom times we also saw alarming increases in rates of addiction, depression and anxiety. So, what’s going on?

In truth, researchers have consistently seen very small connections between wealth and happiness. Poverty and destitution are something else; they do appear to contribute to unhappiness and a lack of satisfaction from life. But once you get past that point, greater and greater wealth fails to deliver on the promise of substantially increased happiness. In fact, people’s absolute level of income (past poverty) has almost no connection to their reported sense of well being.

In order to keep this discussion balanced, we should point out that one’s perceived wealth, as compared or ranked in relation to one’s neighbors and peers, does make a small difference in how happy people claim to be. But the difference is small and falls far short of what people expect money to do for them. Doesn’t seem particularly logical does it?

A recent article in the journal Psychological Science suggests one possible reason for these findings. Specifically, the researchers suggested that wealth may essentially trash people’s ability to savor everyday positive experiences. They defined savoring as strategies that people use to amplify, augment, or extend positive experiences. For example, you can savor positive things by focusing on the present, spending time anticipating the positive event, or telling other people about how nice the event was for you.

And research demonstrates that wealthy people are relatively terrible at savoring small, everyday events. Apparently once you’ve experienced the delights of using personal luxurious jet airplanes, having your own personal chef prepare all of your meals, and vacationing in sumptuous seaside villas, you don’t tend to savor positive events and experiences such as romantic weekends, completing a difficult task, or encountering some natural wonder.

The researchers went further and determined that merely priming research participants to think about wealth actually reduced their ability to savor eating a piece of chocolate.

So if you worry about, dwell upon, and make yourself anxious about money, we have two suggestions for you:

  1. Try to quit comparing yourself to people you know who have more than you. If you must engage in comparisons, try to focus on those who make less both here and in poverty stricken areas (which people don’t tend to do, by the way).
  2. If you wish to indulge from time to time, fine. But focus on your everyday positive experiences–your kids’ smile, the small enjoyments you feel at work, and yes, that little piece of chocolate.

In a future blog, we will give you suggestions for things most of us can do without. It doesn’t cost as much to forgo such things as you think and it pays amazing dividends.

p.s. Thanks to Ken Pope, Ph.D. for making us aware of a couple of the articles from Psychological Science that we based some of this blog on.