Most people believe that if they had a little more money (or a lot more), they would be set, they would be happy!

Yet we repeatedly hear that big lottery winners have little or nothing left after a short while, and may be close to destitute. Are they happy then?

Last weekend’s paper chronicled the story of a dot-com owner who sold his company for more than a billion dollars but now, a few years later, was in bankruptcy proceedings. Surely he had had the means to purchase anything he wanted. But I doubt he was happy now. It sounded like he’d simply made some terrible investments.

So, what’s the deal? Are these people just stupid? Or does money have nothing to do with happiness?

Part of the answer, I think, lies in the fact that these people received their money too easily; it really meant nothing to them. Easy come, easy go!

But that doesn’t fully answer the question of whether money can buy happiness.  I’ve come across several studies lately that suggest the answer to the question is, “It depends.” It depends what you spend your money on.

The studies say that, if you spend your money on things, it will not buy happiness. After all, a shiny new toy is only shiny for a little while. And the pride and joy of owning it wears off, so that a new toy to replace it is soon required to keep the happiness factor at a high level.

So any happiness associated with acquiring things is a continually waning characteristic that needs constant propping up at ever higher levels. Failure to achieve those higher levels results in disappointment, and thus, unhappiness.

On the other hand, experts say, money can buy happiness if it purchases experiences, like trips, concerts, events, social occasions and special meals.

There are a number of reasons that buying experiences provides greater happiness than buying things. First, experiences are more likely shared with others, thus providing a social context and building relationships. And it’s relationships that tend to be the most critical to our happiness.

Second, there’s the anticipation factor which, experts say, tends to be greater for experiences than for things. It’s generally more exciting to daydream about the up-coming vacation than the upcoming vehicle purchase.

Third, there’s the memory, the re-living of the event. You re-live the experience within its context, because, in a way, you are re-living the emotions associated with the experience. And so the memory of the event has much greater lasting value than that of a purchase that has been diminished by a succession of greater purchases.

Finally, the sharing of experiences enhances your standing with others. Talking about your experiences labels you as interesting, while talking about the stuff you have labels you a jerk.

So where does a home purchase fit in? I suppose it could be either. Clearly, it provides the context for building experiences with family and friends. And if it provides the opportunity to build positive relationships, it would probably fall into the category of buying happiness by buying experiences.

But if it is just a matter of buying a shinier toy or greater status, then the purchase may not buy happiness.

But, of course, these are all generalized conclusions. For any specific individual, they may not fully apply.

Ron Geddert