Ever since I posted about The Pleasure Center: Trust Your Animal Instincts two weeks ago I have been trying to find an excuse to post another excerpt. Well today I found one. It’s Tuesday! The economy is down the drain, my savings are shot and overall I’m in a pretty good mood. What does Morten L. Kringelbach think about the money-happiness relationship? Find out below.
Many people tend to think that having a high income must be related to a better quality of life, but research has shown this to be mostly illusionary. People with high incomes (>$100,000) usually report being relatively content but seldom report feeling more content in day-to-day experiences, are far more tense, and use less time on leisure activities than those with lower incomes.
Yet, many people are strongly motivated to increase their income and will accept doing things that are clearly not pleasurable-such as longer commutes and working hours-in order to achieve this goal.
This is likely to stem from our inability to correctly predict both our own and other pleasure states. In another study on hardworking American women, Kahneman and colleagues asked them to characterize the events of their day in four mood categories ranging from really poor to very good. They were also asked to predict the mood states of women in other circumstances such as different income (low, high), marital status (along or married), and with or without health insurance.
Given that researchers had chosen women from all of these categories, they were able to compare how these women self-reported their mood and how other women thought they would report their mood.
Not surprisingly there were some differences in negative mood states between different groups of women, with for example, less negative mood in the high-income group than in the low-income group. But the most striking and significant differences were between the predicted and the actual scores for the different groups, where for example, most women predicted that the low-income group would be in a bad mood two-thirds of the time, when in fact they were only in a bad mood a third of the time. Generally there were around 25 to 40% points between the predictions and the actual self-reports.
The women were thus prone to exaggeration and seemingly unable to predict how other women would feel when their circumstances differed from their own. This may in part be explainable by a lack of focus and attention to the relevant factors. We become used to our circumstances and with time we no longer view them as relevant background when making reports on our quality of life. This is why winning the lottery or divorcing mostly have only transient effects on our lives. While we happily predict that they would change our lives forever, in reality this almost never happens.
Our subjective pleasures are more likely to come from events in our daily lives. Over the long term we get far more pleasure out of being with friends and enjoying good food, music, and sex than we do from winning the lottery.