Here's How Money Could Actually Buy Happiness

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Money really can buy happiness — if you buy things that "match" your personality, a new study from the United Kingdom suggests.

Researchers analyzed more than 76,000 purchases that 625 people made over a six-month period, and grouped the purchases into categories based on how they might be tied to a personality trait. For example, purchases involving "eating out in pubs" were tied to the personality trait of extroversion (a person who is sociable and outgoing), while purchases involving "charities" and "pets" were tied to the personality trait of agreeableness (a person who is compassionate and friendly).

Then, the study participants completed a personality test and life-satisfaction survey, and their transactions were anonymously linked to their test results.

The researchers found that overall, people tend to spend money in ways that match their personality. For example, extroverted people spent an average of 52 British pounds ($73) more per year on "pub nights" than introverted people, and people who ranked high in conscientiousness (meaning they are disciplined and organized) spent an average of 124 British pounds ($174) more per year on "health and fitness" purchases than the people who ranked low in conscientiousness.

Moreover, the study showed that the people who made more purchases that matched their personality reported higher levels of life satisfaction than people whose purchases didn't match their personalities, the researchers said.

"Historically, studies had found a weak relationship between money and overall well-being," Joe Gladstone, an author of the study and a behavioral economics researcher at the University of Cambridge in England, said in a statement. "Our study breaks new ground by mining actual bank-transaction data and demonstrating that spending can increase our happiness when it is spent on goods and services that fit our personalities and so meet our psychological needs." [10 Fitness Apps: Which Is Best for Your Personality?]

In a second experiment, the researchers gave the study participants a gift card for either a bookstore or a bar. The extroverts who spent gift cards for a bar were happier than introverts who spent the bar gift card. And the introverts who spent the bookstore gift cards were happier than the extroverts who spent them.

While the first experiment showed a link, or an association, between purchases and happiness, the results of the second experiment suggest that spending money in ways that match personality may actually cause an increase in people's happiness, the researchers said.

A better understanding of the links between spending and happiness could lead to more personalized advice on "how to find happiness through the little consumption choices we make every day," said study researcher Sandra Matz, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Cambridge.

The study was published online today (April 7) in the journal Psychological Science.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.