Guest post by Hazel Garcia from InvestmentZen
An oft-repeated quote is that money can’t buy happiness. But according to multiple studies, yes, it can. The key is what you spend that hard earned cash on. When researchers asked individuals to reflect on their recent purchases, those who had made experiential purchases i.e. trips, lessons, events, etc. were much happier compared to those who had made material purchases.
Why is this the case? According to a 20 year study at Cornell, our excitement from new purchases fades quickly over time. That new watch you bought quickly becomes a part of your everyday life. This is what psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill,” which describes the way we return to our normal state of happiness after a momentous occasion. However, buying a new chair will return you much quicker to that state than an adventure across the Rocky Mountains.
Researchers identified several key reasons why this is the case. One reason is that an object is just an object and can never become a part of your identity (at least, not a healthy one), whereas experiences shape us over time. In addition, because by definition unique experiences are only short-lived, we don’t adapt to them the way we might with a new phone or watch. They do not become part of the routine and as such are usually viewed in a special light.
Interestingly, researchers found that even a negative experience could be rated more highly than purchasing a luxury good. In the study, participants were asked to describe a bad experience they had recently and a few weeks later, they were asked again about it. Over the course of just a few weeks, most people’s opinion of that moment had changed.
This is because the human brain has a tendency to reduce the impact of stressful situations. In fact, a significant portion of those polled even stated that in the end, they were happy to have had the negative encounter as it gave them a fresh way to look at things. When similar questions were asked to those who had purchased a high-end item, their levels of happiness were consistently lower as time went on.
So when it comes to the age old question of “Does money buy happiness?” the answer is a resounding yes – provided you spend it on the right things. But of course, you should still aim to make every dollar go as far as possible in pursuit of great experiences. Take a look at the infographic below to see a visual summary of the research on money and how it can buy happiness.
If You Want To Be Happy, Spend Money On Experiences, Not Things InvestmentZen news, Hazel Garcia (23/1/17)
Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things Forbes, Travis Bradberry (9/8/16)
The science of why you should spend your money on experiences, not things Fast Company, Jay Cassano (30/3/15)
To feel happier, talk about experiences, not things Cornell Chronicle, Susan Kelley (29/1/13)
The way we shop now: the revolution in British spending habits The Guardian, Katie Allen and Sarah Butler (6/5/16)
Just do it: the experience economy and how we turned our backs on ‘stuff’ The Guardian, Simon Usborne (13/5/17)
Questions (by JS)
- Why does buying material goods not buy happiness? Does this apply to all material goods?
- What is different, in terms of happiness, about buying experiences? Does this apply to the consumption of all services?
- Is the consumption of experiences subject to diminishing marginal utility (a) for specific experiences; (b) for experiences in general? Explain.
- Why do we seem not to care as much about the “Jones'” vacation as about their income or possession of material goods?
Economics is about choice – and choices occur in all parts of our lives. One area is personal relationships. Are we making the best of our relationships with family, friends and sexual partners? Increasingly economists are examining human behaviour in such contexts and asking what factors determine our decisions and whether such decisions are rational.
A recent book looks at the economics of marriage and goes under the title of ‘Spousonomics‘. Its authors, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, use economics “to master love, marriage and dirty dishes”. As they say:
Every marriage is its own little economy, a business of two with a finite number of resources that need to be allocated efficiently.
They look at ways in which such resources can be allocated efficiently. They also look at apparently irrational behaviour and seek to explain it in terms of various ‘failures’ (akin to market failures). They also examine how these failures can be rectified to improve relationships.
So is this economics stepping on the toes of relationship counsellors and psychologists? Or is this the legitimate domain of economists seeking to understand how to optimise in the context of scarce resources – including time and patience?
Spousonomics gets to heart of the matter Belfast Telegraph (19/1/11)
Run your marriage with ‘Spousonomics’: A new book says applying economic rules with transform your relationship Mail Online, Lydia Slater (31/1/11)
Spousonomics: How Economics Can Help Figure Out Your Marriage Book Beast (31/1/11)
Spousonomics Lesson #1: Loss Aversion YouTube (15/1/11)
Economist’s Explanation For Why Getting Married Isn’t Rational Huffington Post, Dan Ariely (15/1/11)
How Economics Saved My Marriage Newsweek, Paula Szuchman (30/1/11)
Want your marriage to profit? New York Post, Sara Stewart (29/1/11)
Spousonomics: blog, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
- How would you define ‘rational behaviour’ in a personal relationship?
- Why may marriage be a better deal generally for men than for women?
- Give some examples of asymmetry of information in marriage and why this may lead to bad decision making?
- Give some examples of risk averse and risk loving behaviour in personal relationships?
- Why are many actions in marriage apparently irrational? Could such actions be explained if the concept of ‘irrationality’ is redefined?
- Why may a simple demand curve help to explain why sexual relationships tend to wane in many marriages?
- Why does moral hazard occur in marriage? Does a combination or moral hazard and asymmetry of information help to explain divorce?
- Should marriage guidance counsellors study economics?!
Here’s an interesting example of oligopoly – one you probably haven’t considered before. It’s the art market. And it’s not just one market, but a whole pyramid of markets. At the bottom are the ‘yearning masses’ of penny-poor artists, from students to those struggling to make a living from their art, with studios in their attic, garden shed or kitchen table. At the top of the pyramid are those very few artists that can earn fantastic sums of money by selling to collectors or top galleries. Then there are all the layers of markets in between, where artists can earn everything from a modest to a reasonable income.
The pyramid is itself depicted as a work of art, which you can see in the linked article below. It’s worth studying this piece of art carefully as well as reading the article.
A guide to the market oligopoly system Reuters, Felix Salmon (28/12/10)
- Identify the increasing barriers to entry as you work up the art market pyramid.
- Are there any other market imperfections in the art market that you can identify from the diagram?
- What are the key differences between the ‘primary market, tier 1’, the ‘primary market, tier 2’ and ‘the secondary market’?
- Are artists ‘rational maximisers’? If so, what is it they are trying to maximise? If not, why not?
- How would you set about determining the ‘worth’ of a piece of art? How do possible future value of a piece of art determine its present value?
Happiness and unhappiness are central to economists’ analysis of consumer behaviour. If we define ‘utility’ as perceived happiness, standard consumer theory assumes that rational people will seek to maximise the excess of happiness over the costs of achieving it: i.e. will seek to maximise consumer surplus. In fact, this analysis can be traced back to the work of the utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham reffered to it as hedonic or felicific calculus (see also and also).
Now, of course, whether people actually behave in this way is an empirical question: one that behavioural and experimental economists have been investigating over a number of years. Nevertheless, it remains central to neoclassical analysis of ‘rational behaviour’.
But if happiness is central to a large part of economic analysis, how is happiness to be measured? At a micro level, this has proved problematic as it is virtually impossible to have inter-personal comparisons of utility. As a result, consumer theory uses indifference analysis, characteristics analysis, revealed preference and other approaches to analyse consumer demand.
But what about at the macro level? How is a nation’s happiness or well-being to be measured? There is general acceptance that GDP is a relatively poor proxy for national well-being and is more a measure of production. There have been various indices developed over the years (see, for example, Box 14.7 on ISEW in Economics, 7th edition) as alternatives to GDP. None has been adopted by governments, however, with the exception of a Gross National Happiness index in Bhutan.
Recently, however, there has been renewed interest in developing an index of well-being. In France, President Sarkozy commissioned two Nobel economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, to examine the issues in developing such a measure. In the light of the Stiglitz/Sen report, David Cameron has asked the Office of National Statistics to measure the UK’s general well-being. The articles below look at the difficulties that could arise in producing an index of well-being, of meauring the elements and in using it for policy.
UK Prime Minister Cameron Moves on UK Happiness Index Triple Pundit, Kristina Robinson (17/11/10)
David Cameron’s happiness index finds support despite impending decade of austerity Daily Record, Magnus Gardham (16/11/10)
How can we measure happiness? Telegraph, Philip Johnston (16/11/10)
David Cameron aims to make happiness the new GDP Guardian, Allegra Stratton (14/11/10)
An unhappiness index is more David Cameron’s style Guardian, Polly Toynbee (16/11/10)
Happiness is a warm baguette? The Economist (13/1/08)
‘Stiglitz-Sen Moving in the Right Direction, but Slowly’ IPS, Hazel Henderson (18/9/09)
The Rise and Fall of the G.D.P. New York Times Magazine (13/5/10)
Happiness doesn’t increase with growing wealth of nations, finds study Guardian, Alok Jha (13/12/10)
Should governments pursue happiness rather than economic growth? The Economist (25/11/10)
M&S’s Sir Stuart Rose among UK’s expert happiness panel BBC News (27/1/11)
The Stiglitz/Sen/Fitoussi report
Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Jean-Paul Fitoussi (September 2009)
- What are the shortcomings of using GDP as a measure of a nation’s well-being?
- Summarise the main findings of the Stiglitz/Sen/Fetoussi report.
- What items would be included in a happiness or well-being index that (a) are not included in GDP; (b) not included in Stiglitz and Sen’s proposed net national product measure? How would such an index be compiled?
- Would it be satisfactory to compile such an index purely on the basis of survey evidence? Why might such evidence prove unreliable?
- What are the political advantages and disadvantages of using such an index?
- Is utilitarianism the best basis for judging the progress of society?
Later this afternoon I’ll be going down to watch my beloved Leicester City. Our first home match drew a crowd of just over 21,500. This was perhaps a little disappointing for the first home match of the season. Normally, supporters’ spirits are high are the start of the season, we all go down to the ground with renewed optimism, and so ‘first match’ crowds are high. But, this year a number had not come along and the problem was not confined to my club. Just down the road in Coventry, their first match against fellow Midlanders Derby County drew a crowd of only a little over 13,000. While this match was televised by SKY, the attendance is likely to have disappointed many at this historic club. Up by the River Tees, Midllesbrough’s first home match drew a record low league crowd of 14,633 and led manager Gordon Strachan to blame poor crowds on the recession. But, while some clubs are struggling to get supporters through the turnstiles, others seemed rather more immune from the affects of the economic climate. Manchester United’s first home match drew a near-capacity 75,221, despite being a televised match on a Monday night, while Arsenal’s first home match against newly promoted Blackpool drew a capacity crowd of 60,032.
These contrasting experiences amongst football clubs raise some important questions about the nature of demand for attending football matches. Perhaps a good place to start for any chief executive thinking about the demand for their club’s matches is to actually step back and consider about how supporters derive satisfaction from attending matches. This satisfaction from consuming something is also known by economists as ‘utility’. In understanding how supporters derive utility clubs may gain some really useful information when pricing season tickets or match-day tickets.
Well, let’s start with me! I am a fox (a Leicester supporter) through and through and so it’s about an emotional attachment. I was first taken down to Filbert Street by Grandfather in the early 1980s. We were soundly beaten on the day by Notts County on the day. But, while I was gutted, I was supporting my team! I derive a lot of my satisfaction from supporting my home-town team. I guess that makes me what we might term a ‘core supporter’. It’s important for clubs to have a sense of their core support because these are likely to be supporters who are least sensitive to pricing. In other words, this group of supporters is more likely to exhibit a price inelastic demand.
So, a happy chief executive of a football club is likely to be one with a sizeable core support. Another way of looking at this, which is not always popular amongst football traditionalists, is to think of a football club as a brand. A popular, sought-after brand gives the supplier a greater degree of power over pricing. The greater the attachment to the brand the greater the power to set price. While for me the attachment comes from the geography of my birth, for others the attachment comes from being associated with success. This helps to explain the attachment of so many supporters to what we refer to as ‘the big clubs’. Therefore, success can help generate supporter-attachment which can therefore be ‘priced-in’ by clubs when determining the pricing structure for matches and season tickets.
But, not everybody is attached to a team out of loyalty to their town or city or because of its success. For others, the utility from attending matches could come from a variety of sources. A ‘floating supporter’ is therefore likely to be more choosey and pricing needs to try and take this into account. For these supporters it might be a question of who the two teams on show are on a particular day. This helps, in part, to understand why local derbies are generally well attended – but why they are also relatively expensive to attend. It might also be the case that particular matches allow supporters to see a ‘superstar’. If a certain player or club is in town then prices at the turnstiles are likely to reflect this.
What we have suggested here is that in beginning to understand the demand for attending football matches, clubs need to build up a profile of their supporters and their potential supporters. We have focused on how supporters derive satisfaction from watching football and how this affects what they are willing to pay. Yet they need to do more than this, including building up a profile of the economic, social and geographic demographics of supporters. As Gordon Strachan points out, supporters are not immune to economic conditions and football clubs can’t be either. Therefore, clubs will also need to have a sense of how income-sensitive is the demand for attending their matches. The economic climate means that many in football, especially those at clubs involved in setting prices, may need to give considerable thought to the demand function for attending live football matches. May be an economist really could help in the board rooms of many football clubs. While I may not make the board room at the Walkers Stadium later, I will be in the crowd!
Boro boss Strachan blames recession for poor crowds BBC News (22/8/10)
Premier League fun for all – at a cost BBC Sport, Matt Slater’s Blog (27/8/10)
Inside football with Rob Tanner: Where have all the fans gone Leicester Mercury, Rob Tanner (27/8/10)
- What do you understand by term ‘utility’? Think of any two products or services and draw up a list of how you derive utility from them?
- What do you understand by the terms ‘price elasticity of demand’ and ‘income elasticity of demand’? Try applying these concepts to the demand to attend matches at any two football clubs that you might be aware of.
- Are football clubs price-takers or price-makers when determining match prices? Is this true of all clubs?
- Imagine that a club is promoted to the top league in its country for the first ever time. How will this affect the position and slope of its demand curve for season tickets?