The debate over the assertion "money can't buy happiness" is usually a hypothetical one. But an unusual real-world experiment suggests money can indeed bring happiness, and not just in a fleeting way. As NBC News reports, two wealthy donors teamed up with the TED organization to give 200 people from around the world and of varying income levels a surprise gift of $10,000. The only catch is they had to spend it in three months, all the while recording their happiness levels. Three months after the money was gone, they again assessed their own happiness. The results, as reported in PNAS, suggest that the money had a lasting effect.
"Our data provide the clearest evidence to date that private citizens can improve net global happiness through voluntary redistribution to those with less," researchers conclude in the study. The results played out in ways that might not sound too surprising: Generally, the lower the income, the happier people became because of the money. For example, those making $10,000 a year saw a boost in happiness twice that of those making $100,000 a year. And the study had a weirdly specific threshold: Households with incomes above $123,000 saw no noticeable increase in happiness because of the money. The group of people who received the money were also compared to a control group who got none.
Those who received the $10,000 had no idea they would be getting money. All responded to a TED invitation on Twitter to participate "in a one-of-its-kind social experiment" that would be "exciting, surprising, somewhat time-consuming, possibly stressful, but possibly also life-changing." And they could spend the money on whatever they wanted, from mortgage payments to renovations. A Harvard behavioral scientist not involved with the study tells NBC that no scientific consensus exists on the can-money-buy-happiness question in part because of all the complex variables involved. (Read more happiness stories.)