Study Says Money *Can* Buy Happiness, If You Buy the Right Things


The old adage “money can’t buy happiness” is an oft-repeated one, for good reason. A recent, large-scale Harvard study even showed that the key factor in determining your well-being is the strength of your relationships. (And this was seriously large-scale: The research was conducted for 75 years.) So we can’t help but be surprised by a new study out of the United Kingdom, which found that money can buy happiness—it just depends on what your purchases are.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the research looked at 77,000 bank transactions across the UK from 625 participants, none of whom were known by the researchers. From there, transactions were divided into 112 different categories, like charity or eating out with friends. These transactions were then paired with one of “the big five” personality traits: openness to experience (artistic versus traditional), conscientiousness (self-controlled vs easygoing), extraversion (outgoing vs reserved), agreeableness (compassionate vs competitive) and neuroticism (prone to stress vs stable).

The results were kind of shocking: People who spent more money on purchases that aligned with their personality traits (so an extrovert spending money on dinner with friends, for example) reported greater life satisfaction. Specifically, the data showed that those who bought products that more closely matched their personalities reported higher satisfaction with their lives, and this effect was stronger than that of their total income or total spending, tying the two even closer together.

“Historically, studies had found a weak relationship between money and overall well-being,” said research associate Joe Gladstone at a meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. “Our study breaks new ground by mining actual bank-transaction data and demonstrating that spending can increase our happiness when it is spent on goods and services that fit our personalities and so meet our psychological needs.”

Point being, it’s OK to spend money and treat yourself sometimes—just make sure your purchases are aligned with what you really want.