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

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution