Happiness is a bookstore (or a bar)

Apparently money really can buy happiness – if you spend it in a way that matches your personality. That’s the conclusion of a new study out of Cambridge University (in cooperation with a bank) that paired up subjects’ personality and happiness tests with their bank transaction records. The findings weren't too surprising: 

"People generally spent more money on products that match their personality. For example, a highly extroverted person spent approximately £52 more each year on pub nights than an introverted person. Similarly, a highly conscientiousness person spent £124 more annually on health and fitness than a person low in conscientiousness.”

Researchers analyzed the correlation through five different categories of personality traits. My favourite category has to be “agreeableness.” Those with a low score racked up bigger sums on traffic fines while the highly agreeable folks spent more on pets and charities.

I’m not really surprised that we spend more money on things that we intrinsically feel are necessary – whether it’s company at the pub for those who crave social contact or gym memberships for people who worry about staying fit.

I’m just not sure it proves anything about happiness, as opposed to personal preferences or priorities, or a correlation between a way of thinking ("being nice doesn't matter") and a way of acting ("speed limits are for suckers").

According to researchers, that’s where the second part of the study comes in. Extroverts and introverts were given gift cards for bookstores or pubs, then quizzed about their feelings.

“Extroverts who were forced to spend at a bar were happier than introverts forced to spend at a bar, while introverts forced to spend at a bookshop were happier than extroverts forced to spend at a bookshop. This follow-up experiment overcomes the limitations of correlational data by demonstrating that spending money on things that match a person’s personality can cause an increase in happiness.”
 My local bookstore has quite the selection of books on happiness.

My local bookstore has quite the selection of books on happiness.

I'm still not buying that confident conclusion – are the two studies really related enough to prove the point? – but the whole project is pretty interesting. I’d be curious to know if the happiness they speak of would translate into longer-term well-being or if it's limited to the quick hit of pleasure we get in the moment of spending. I guess that’s what I’m hoping to find out in my Shopping for Happiness project this year.

Meanwhile, I'm curious: would you rather be “forced” to spend at a bookshop or a pub? Isn't it fun just to think about being "forced" to do one or the other? Go ahead, twist my arm...