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

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz