It turns out you can buy happiness after all -- you just can't rent it. It's no surprise that driving flashy cars, dripping in diamonds, and carrying the latest "it"-bag can all bring us joy, but a new study suggests it's only if the luxuries are ours to keep.
Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium wanted to find out if ownership, not simply consumption, is the element that brings joy with high-end products. In other words, is it simply enough to ride in your friend's Lamborghini, or does the drive make you long for your own? You guessed it. We want to have our cake and eat it too.
The study looked at more "affordable" luxury products, including pens and gourmet chocolates. Just over 300 participants were tested in their satisfaction not only with luxury versus run-of-the-mill products (think Richart chocolates vs. Hershey's Pot of Gold), but with ownership versus simply usage.
Those in the luxury-keepers group were, well, happier, reporting greater feelings of well-being. But the luxury users, well, not so much. They'd have been better off just using the regular items. In the "users" group, those who tested the average products walked away more satisfied than those who had to walk away from the more luxe goods.
"The finding that people are more satisfied with life when they own luxury products than when they only get to use them is in line with prior research that equates consumption with ownership," study co-author Liselot Hudders said in a release. "In contrast, the mere use or mere knowledge of luxury products seems to be detrimental for one's satisfaction with life."
Researchers suspect it might have to do with the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. "Products can be conspicuously consumed to impress others in order to gain a higher social status," they write. "This ostentatious display of luxuries enables consumers to improve their position by demonstrating they are better off than their peers."
But when you can only have a taste of said luxuries, it's a bit like a child having his favorite toy taken away -- or like moving down the social ladder. Authors describe it as "psychological discomfort."
So while the study gives some merit to the disputed theory that happiness can be bought, it also shows those purchases can bring unhappiness.
Other studies have also tried to delve into the age-old question. A Princeton study found that having a high salary brought happiness, but there was a cap -- $75K. Others have shown that money, or luxuries, typically have very little to do with some of our happiest experiences.
For now let's just all agree on this. Money can't buy happiness, but either can being broke.