Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Feb 08, 2019

More is More: Variety in Conceptualizations, Behaviors, and Spending may Boost Happiness

An older couple hikes across a mountain with smiles on faces

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” According to this quote from the Dalai Lama, happiness comes as a result of our behaviors. But what behaviors lead to the greatest happiness and well-being? In the symposium on happiness, “Get Happy: Perspectives on Experiences and Conceptions of Happiness,” researchers shared insights from a number of studies suggesting how specific thoughts and behaviors contribute to happiness and well-being.

As we move throughout the world, we have choices about not just where to spend our time and energy, but also where and how to spend our money. When it comes to “hedonic spending,” – that is, money spent on fun and pleasure – variety may be key to maximizing happiness. Research by Peter Ruberton and colleagues analyzed hedonic spending using spending data from the bank accounts of over 500 customers. They found that variety of hedonic spending is positively associated with life satisfaction. In other words, spending money on a number of different pleasurable things – going to the movies, bowling, and video games – is associated with greater well-being than spending that money diving deep into one particular pleasurable activity. While Ruberton explained that the causality of this relationship isn’t clear, if you’re trying to figure out how to spend your money to maximize its feel-good impact, spreading that money around in a variety of ways is probably a safe bet.

Clearly what we do makes a big difference for our happiness and well-being. But how much does what we think matter? According to Julia Krasko and colleagues from Ruhr University Bochum, how we conceptualize happiness plays an important role in our overall well-being. Happiness is necessarily subjective – for some people, being happy might just mean pursuing joy and avoiding negativity. For others, belonging and purpose might be important in addition to pursuing joy and avoiding negativity. Krasko and colleagues argue that these conceptions of happiness – whether they are simple or complex – influence the actions we take to pursue happiness and well-being. Their research suggests that more complex conceptualizations of happiness are associated with a greater intention to actively pursue happiness and well-being-related activities. This intention then leads to a greater engagement with a wide variety of well-being activities, which is associated with higher daily happiness and well-being. The moral of the story? A broader definition of happiness may lead people to engage in a broader number of well-being activities, which may boost happiness.

It thus seems that when thinking about happiness, spending money to increase happiness, and engaging in behaviors to promote happiness, variety really is the spice of life.

Written By: Kari Leibowitz. Kari Leibowitz is a 4th year PhD student in social psychology and a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow. Kari works in the Stanford Mind & Body Lab and her research involves leveraging psycho-social forces to improve healthcare experiences and outcomes.

Session: “Adding Spice to Life: Variety in Hedonic Spending Increases Subjective Well-Being” & "Theoretical Model of the Pursuit of Happiness and Well Being” part of symposium, “Get Happy: Perspectives on Experiences and Conceptions of Happiness,” held Friday, February 8, 2019.

Speakers:  Peter Ruberton, Pennsylvania State University; Julia Krasko, Ruhr University Bochum


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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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