Link between money, happiness explored

| Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Beatles told us money "Can't Buy Me Love," but can money buy happiness?

That's a question of great exploration and academic research lately. And it's infiltrated the pages of some best-selling books that aren't specifically about that topic.

Here are some relatively new books that address, in different ways, the issue of money and happiness:

--"Stop Acting Rich," by Thomas Stanley. Stanley was co-author of the wildly popular 1996 book "The Millionaire Next Door," which drew on survey data to show millionaires often don't look the part and usually are quite frugal. In his newest book, the former marketing professor again delves into the data, this time to reveal the brands millionaires buy. Hint: The brands aren't Grey Goose vodka, Rolex watches and BMW cars.

His overarching point is that true millionaires, not wannabes trying to look the part, often are happy with functional brands and have no need to show off. The No. 1 watch brand among millionaires• Seiko. The No. 1 car• Toyota.

--"The Happiness Project," by Gretchen Rubin. This is not a money book. Instead, it's partly a memoir of a wife, mother and writer on a yearlong quest to achieve more happiness. And it's partly a self-help book, backed by research into the topic of happiness and feedback from her popular blog, The Happiness Project (

Still, money comes into play throughout Rubin's exploration. It's not that she's dealing with a lack of money; she describes living a comfortable lifestyle. Instead, it offers ways to use money to increase happiness.

Those purchases will vary among individuals, but a running theme is that spending money to have experiences with other people is a great bet for boosting happiness. That also might involve charitable giving. Also, indulging in a modest splurge can help.

Rubin writes that she often used whatever low-quality pens were available but got a thrill from buying several of her favorite pens that cost $3 each.

"My new pens weren't cheap, but when I think of all the time I spend using pens and how much I appreciate a good pen, I realize it was money well spent," she writes.

--"Your Money: The Missing Manual," by J.D. Roth. The book by the creator of the popular personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly (, is an introduction and exploration of many personal finance topics, from spending and saving to credit and investing. But time and again, Roth comes back to the notion of what money is good for, and what it's not good for.

When people are poor, a boost in income and spending can increase happiness a lot. But people who are middle class and comfortable get rapidly diminished happiness returns from more spending. Then, the trick to gaining more happiness is to realize when you're satisfied.

"If you don't ask yourself how much is enough, there's this temptation to keep spending in a fruitless quest to find fulfillment," he said.

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