There’s an article from the Boston Globe (“Happiness: A Buyers Guide” by Drake Bennett) that takes a look at research on the question of whether or not money can buy happiness. What’s sociologically interesting about it is the role it suggests that social networks play in shaping people’s happiness. On the importance of money for happiness Bennett summarizes the research this way:

Psychologists and economists have found that while money does matter to your sense of happiness, it doesn’t matter that much. Beyond the point at which people have enough to comfortably feed, clothe, and house themselves, having more money – even a lot more money – makes them only a little bit happier.

In fact, Bennett suggests that, “Recent studies have suggested that merely thinking about money makes us more solitary and selfish, and steers us away from the spending that promises to make us happiest.” He argues that the key to happiness is tied more to social connections than money. He writes,

One of the most consistent findings of the happiness literature is that having a strong social network is an excellent predictor of happiness.

So, if money is to buy happiness, researchers suggest, it would do so not through purchasing things, but spending it in ways that increase and enhance social experiences. Bennett goes on to cite experiments that tested this relationship and found that there did seem to be a relationship between prosocial spending (including gifts and donations)  and happiness. Other researchers found that spending money on experiences such as vacations and dining out increased happiness more than did spending it on material goods.

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