A study showed that the perfect salary for happiness is around $82,000 a year, meaning additional amounts of money beyond that amount won't affect how good you feel from day to day. The New York Times suggests the reason for this might be pretty simple: when you can afford to have something anytime you want, you just don't like it as much.
Photo by John Loo.
Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, the authors of the article, point to a study about chocolate to help explain. Basically, two groups of students were tested. The first group was given a piece of chocolate and then told they couldn't have any for a week. The other group was given a large bag of chocolate and told to eat as much as they want. Here's what happened:
If you love chocolate, you might think that the students who absconded with the chocolaty loot had it made. But they paid a price. When they returned the next week for another chocolate tasting, they enjoyed that chocolate much less than they had the week before. The only people who enjoyed the chocolate as much the second week as they had the first? Those who had given it up in between. Underindulging - temporarily giving up chocolate, even when we have the cash to buy all we want - can renew our enjoyment of the things we love.
This points to two problems: you're going to lose interest in things if you overindulge, and if you want to cut back on something you like, you're going to make the problem much harder on yourself by removing it entirely.
I think that most people can at least think of a small example where they've experienced this from both sides. I had a much greater success cutting back on eating sugar by having a small amount of candy when I wanted it than cutting it out completely. At one point in my life I was also making quite a bit of money, but I didn't love my job. I decided both of those things were a problem, so I when I was offered the opportunity to write for Lifehacker I took it for two reasons: it was work I enjoyed and it paid me a lot less.
I'd always felt I produced better work towards the end of university because I was hungry to do it and wasn't too comfortable. When I became comfortable, I didn't have to want anything -- I could just have it. It made the work I didn't like a lot harder to do, and I started to believe I'd be better off wanting than having. That turned out to be true for me, and according to this study it could be true for most people.
It's a simple idea that we know yet rarely follow: balance is extremely important.
Don't Indulge. Be Happy. [New York Times]