Don't Indulge. Be Happy

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton
NYT July 7, 2012

Is it crazy to question how much money you need to be happy? ...But it turns out there is a measurable connection between income and happiness; not surprisingly, people with a comfortable living standard are happier than people living in poverty.

Indulgence is often closely trailed by its chubby sidekick, overindulgence ...But research shows that underindulgence — indulging a little less than you usually do — holds one key to getting more happiness for your money.

Underindulging — temporarily giving up chocolate, even when we have the cash to buy all we want — can renew our enjoyment of the things we love. Researchers at Arizona State University demonstrated that people enjoy soda significantly more when they can’t have it right away.

Yes, and it’s not even close. When we follow up with people who receive cash from us, those whom we told to spend on others report greater happiness than those told to spend on themselves. And in countries from Canada to India to South Africa, we find that people are happier when they spend money on others rather than on themselves.

But rather than focusing on how much we’ve got in our bowl, we should think more carefully about what we do with what we’ve got — which might mean indulging less, and may even mean giving others the opportunity to indulge instead.