Are you and your spouse both pack rats?

The secret of happiness that nobody will tell you about

Source: Martine Roch / Flickr

Money cannot buy happiness. But why not? After all, money has its advantages. In a study, Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Angus Keaton addressed this question. They found that as income rises, so does life satisfaction.

About the role of money in his dating life, curb your enthusiasm Comedian Larry David quipped, "You are supposed to like me for myself? I don't even like myself for myself!"

Even so, most of us intuitively feel that money alone cannot explain happiness. Let's see why.



The deadly nurse

Consider two scenarios from a study by Harvard cognitive scientist Jonathan Phillips:

Imagine a person named Sarah. After attending nursing school for several years, Sarah got a job at the children's hospital and sees many different children every day. This is the job she always wanted. Almost every day, Sarah feels good and in general experiences a lot of pleasant emotions. In fact, it is very rare that she would ever experience negative feelings like sadness or sadness loneliness. When Sarah thinks about her life, she always comes to the same conclusion: She feels very satisfied with the way she lives.

The reason Sarah thinks this way is because she's helping the sick children by giving them vitamins that taste like gummy bears. Sarah doesn't really know how many children she's helped, but she likes to think about it when she falls asleep at night.

Researchers presented this story to the participants and asked them to rate Sarah's happiness level. The participants gave Sarah a high rating. But consider this case about another nurse named Sarah:



After attending nursing school for several years, Sarah got a job at the children's hospital and sees many different children every day. Almost every day, Sarah feels good and in general experiences a lot of pleasant emotions.

The reason Sarah thinks this way is because she is poisoning the sick children by giving them vitamins that contain pesticides. Sarah doesn't really know how many children died because of her, but she likes to think about it when she falls asleep at night.

Participants found that Sarah wasn't that happy. Why do people think Sarah 1 is happier than Sarah 2?

One answer is that feeling good is not enough to make you happy. As the researchers put it, "the results of this study suggest that the influence of moral value on the assessment of happiness is extremely robust." In other words, most of us think that happiness involves a moral life.

Is there a relationship between happiness, money, and morals?

About mice and money

One finding involves killing mice. Economist at the University of Bonn carried out a series of experiments. They wanted to know if markets would affect people's willingness to kill a mouse for money.

In the first experiment, they presented the participants with a choice. You could take 10 euros and a mouse in a lab would be gassed or refuse the money and the mouse would live. 46% took the money.

In a second experiment, researchers set up a market between two people. One person was given responsibility for the life of the mouse. Another person received 20 euros. If they reached an agreement on how the money should be divided, everyone would get a payment and the mouse would be killed. If they couldn't reach an agreement (if one or both of them refused to negotiate), the mouse would be saved. 72% reached an agreement and let the mouse die.

In a third case, the researchers formed a larger market. Several "buyers" have been given cash and several "sellers" have been given responsibility for the lives of mice. The number rose to 76%.

You may be uncomfortable reading this. The results suggest that most of us individually would refuse a cash payment to do something morally questionable (or morally evil, depending on your point of view). In a market environment, however, our moral standards relax. The markets normalized and treated the life of a mouse as a commodity to be bought and sold.

What money can't buy

The Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel makes this clear in his book,What money can't buy. Sandel argues that while a market economy has many advantages, a market society has disadvantages.

For example, would you like to live in a society where people tattoo advertising for money on their foreheads? Maybe. Even so, it seems wrong to many of us. You might think that a person who would do this is not happy.

Also, imagine that many people in society have sold space on their bodies to corporations. We might think it would decrease the general happiness of society. People would make money, but there is more happiness to be done than just money.

What does that mean? You probably think that happiness includes living a good life. A good life involves being a good person, a moral person. If money can't buy a moral life, then money can't buy happiness.

You can follow me on Twitter here: @robkhenderson.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.