They're two of the oldest clichés in the book (you know, the book of clichés): money can't buy love and it can't buy happiness.
I dunno. I don't have enough money to test the theory by negotiating purchases for love or happiness, but I do know that it was great that I recently had enough cash to take my husband to New York to see X at the Fillmore Ballroom.
The trip made us both happy, and I think it might even have made him love me more.
Do the studies support the platitudes? Yes and no. Turns out (no surprise) that we're greedy and competitive and that in some cases a fat bank account can give us a rush. But not always. And guess what? We're also philanthropists at heart.
What the experts say
"When you go from real poverty to crossing the subsistence line in any culture, you get happier. It's not great to be poor. The extraordinary thing is that the curve flattens once you cross the line, which is not to say that you don't get marginally happier when you make more money, but it's marginal. Considering the amount of effort people put into making more money, they are not getting the kind of bang for the buck they expect."
BARRY SCHWARTZ, professor of psychology, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
"In the Zen approach, being excessively wealthy or excessively poor should be avoided. Buddha said, ‘People of abundant desire also suffer abundantly. People of small desire never curry favour or bend to gain the minds of others.' A Zen monk should know how to be satisfied with what he or she has. This is defined as ‘taking within limits from what has already been gained.' Dogen says, ‘Those who don't know satisfaction are not satisfied even if they live in a heavenly palace.' With Zazen practice, you get to understand your desires for what they are, and you aren't so motivated to satisfy all of them. Leaving some desires unsatisfied isn't so bad. Most can't be satisfied anyway."
BRAD WARNER, Zen master, author of Hardcore Zen and Sit Down And Shut Up, Los Angeles
"We did four studies and found that higher levels of spending on pro-social means [charity or gifts] were associated with higher levels of happiness. Personal spending did not affect happiness. In one study, we assigned students to one of four different conditions. They received either $5 or $20 and were asked to spend it on themselves or someone else. We found that those who spent on other people were happier at the end of the day. In another study, we asked subjects to predict which [of the four conditions] would make them happier. People thought spending on themselves would make then happier. The results of the earlier study didn't show this. Those who spent on others were happier. The amount spent didn't seem to matter. If people understood this, they'd be more likely to spend on others."
LARA AKNIN, PhD student,co-author, Spending Money On Others Promotes Happiness, Vancouver, BC
"A study called the General Social Survey shows that the higher their income bracket, the more likely people are to say they're very happy and the less likely they are to say they're not happy. But it's not like the differences are huge. Physical health and marital status are more important. Married people tend to be happier than those who aren't. People in good health are happier than those in poor health. When your grandmother said health is more important than money, she was right. Still, you do compare yourself. The fact that a neurosurgeon makes more money might not bother you [if you're a writer], but if you find another writer who makes more, that tends to make you unhappy."
GLENN FIREBAUGH, professor of sociology and demography, Pennsylvania State, University Park
"We tend to adapt to whatever money situation we are in. When we get extra money, we acclimatize to it and think we need more. We are excited by our new computer or cellphone, but after a few months or a year we need something with more features. What does make us happy? Relationships. Spending time with people is a great way to invest in happiness."
CATHERINE SANDERSON, associate professor of psychology, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts