Spending Your Identity: Can Money Buy Happiness After All?

It could seem obvious to spend in ways that make us happy. So why do we sometimes make purchases that don’t?


According to Gladstone, consumption is often driven by what others are doing. “A lot of people feel pressure from friends or family or social groups to spend in a certain way,” says Gladstone. “They may not spend in a way that matches their personality.” It could be that introverts, for example, living in a predominantly extroverted society, feel pressured to spend in ways that don’t fit. However, the interactions between personality and environment are complex, so it’s difficult to know with certainty.

He adds that having cash in the bank does make life easier. While this research applies to a wide range of income levels, it doesn’t apply to people with very low incomes. Below a certain level, every dollar goes toward necessities.

MEMORY LANE

If we’re fortunate enough to have some income that is discretionary, it seems worth considering how we spend it. Most people likely need an individual mix of material goods and pure experiences. Some would benefit more from purchasing things, while others will cherish memories of an event.

Yet the differences between experiential and material purchases raise another important question: What could all this mean for our communities?

Carter believes the implications are far-reaching. “When you spend money on an experience, you’re often spending money in your community,” says Carter. “When you’re buying possessions, you’re often leaving the community.” Doing good in society is not merely a matter of pursuing happiness, but involves seeking meaning and connecting to others. “If everybody spent money locally — at restaurants or concerts — that would also help foster a sense of community because you’re out among people.”


Whatever your preferences, it seems wise to spend in ways that reflect who you are as a person. If you ever wish to take a trip down memory lane, you’ll get to experience it all again. And it will be as good — if not better — than the first time around.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Brain World Magazine.

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