2013’s big idea? Money can buy happiness!

It's the new policy bible in Downing Street – and it argues you can buy happiness. Charlie Cooper picks out the key insights

I don't care too much for money/ 'Cause money can't buy me love," trilled The Beatles in what many consider the answer to one of life's big questions: can money buy happiness?

Think again. Downing Street's "Nudge Unit" – the Behavioural Insights Team that specialises in trying to alter people's behaviour through the power of suggestion – has a new theory: money can buy happiness. All you have to do is spend it wisely.

The thinking is laid out in an article by American psychologists that is already being tipped as a "big idea" of 2013. The article, "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right", is being read at the highest echelons of Government and will be adapted into a book, Happy Money, for publication next year.

It states, bluntly, that believing the best things in life are not for sale "is lovely, popular and almost certainly wrong. Wealthy people don't just have better toys," the article states. "They have better nutrition and better medical care, more free time and more meaningful labour – more of just about every ingredient in the recipe for a happy life."

However, previous studies have shown that, despite these factors, the rich tend not to be much happier than the poor – something the psychologists appear keen to remedy.

The authors of the paper, Elizabeth W Dunn, Daniel T Gilbert and Timothy Wilson, set out eight core principles for spending yourself into lasting happiness. The secret, it would appear, is to eschew rampant consumerism by paying for experiences over possessions, helping others instead of yourself, and delaying gratification. Even better news for would-be philanthropists: giving to charity brings opportunities for "positive self-presentation".

"Money can buy most, if not all of the things that make people happy," the authors write – "and if it doesn't the fault is ours."

Two sides of the coin:

Laughing all the way to the bank...

Bill & Melinda Gates

Bill Gates married his wife, Melinda, in 1994 – the same year the couple set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which became a lightning rod for America's philanthropists and has made charitable grants worth more than £15bn. The charity works to alleviate poverty and provide healthcare across the globe. Bill puts his happiness down to "getting to work on exactly the things I want to" – that and "a great family".

Dennis Tito

Does buying experiences, rather than things, make you happier? If anyone can answer that question it is Dennis Tito – the world's first space tourist. Mr Tito spent $20m for eight days in space back in 2001. Afterwards, he said: "It was a sense of completeness – from then on, everything is a bonus. And the last 10 years, everything since then has been just extra. And I think I am one of the happiest humans alive."

...but money can’t buy you everything

Donald Trump

With a net worth of more than £1.9bn and a tower in New York named after him, you might think that Donald Trump would have few things to grumble about. As it happens, barely a month goes by without the billionaire businessman taking to America's television screens to denounce the Obama administration and predict the downfall of the American way of life. Perhaps it's something to do with his hair.

MC Hammer

MC Hammer did not follow the third principle of happiness – to buy a lot of small things instead of a few large purchases. The rapper spent a reported $20m on a 40,000sq-ft house with Italian marble floors and solid-gold toilet. A few years later, he went bankrupt, and sold the lavish home for a fraction of its value.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game