Give Yourself Abundant Treats-lite

Making something a treat makes it special.  When it is not a treat, we get tired of it, even the things we think we love.  So say researchers Dunn and Norton in their review of research on money and happiness (Dunn & Norton, 2013, Ch 2).  Based on the wisdom of this observation, the common suggestion is to limit yourself.  Said another way, scarcity of what we love is better than abundance of it.

Ecosynomics suggests an alternative perspective.  Is giving yourself a treat about (1) limiting how much you can have at any given time (the lack of things in the moment) or (2) living into the co-existence of possibility-development-things of the treat?  “The French use the verb se réjouir (to rejoice – to have joy again, to be delighted) to capture the experience of deriving pleasure from anticipating the future.  The se réjouir period provides a source of pleasure that comes free with purchase, supplementing the joy of actual consumption” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 80-81).

“Our tendency to derive more joy from things coming to us in the future than from things already received extends far beyond toys.  In a study of more than one thousand people in the Netherlands, vacationers exhibited a bigger happiness boost in the weeks before their trip, rather than in the weeks afterwards.” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 81; Nawjin, Marchand, Veenhoven, & Vingerhoets, 2010)

So, when you approach a treat from the perspectives of the future potential, the experiencing of it, and the actual thing, then you give yourself an abundance of treats.  This is completely different than trying to maximize your enjoyment of the treat by making it a scarce thing.  While the amount consumed, in the moment, might be the same whether starting from abundance or scarcity, the human experience is not, at least according to this research.


Dunn, Elizabeth, & Norton, Michael. (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Nawijn, Jeroen, Marchand, Miquelle A., Veenhoven, Ruut, & Vingerhoets, Ad J. (2010). Vacationers Happier, But Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5(1), 35-47.

To Be or Not to Be, Happy with Money, That Is the Question

Dunn, Elizabeth, & Norton, Michael. (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Most experiences of money do not increase happiness.  Some do.  So say 2002 Nobel laureate in economics Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues (Kahneman & Deaton, 2010; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2006).  In their new book Happy Money (2013), professors Dunn and Norton show us the research that explains why.  From an Ecosynomics perspective, this research shows that happiness comes from the experience of potential and development and things, light and motion and matterthe interweaving experience of all three levels of perceived reality.  The lack of happiness comes from valuing only the things level of reality.  Dunn and Norton say it so well, that I use quotes from their book to explain the observation.

Only the Things Level.  What happens when people experience money only at the things-matter level? “Material purchases offer clear, concrete benefits, explaining their appeal.  We can see them in front of us and hold them in our hands” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 22).  And the value we experience, in terms of increased happiness, fades quickly with material purchases.  In many cases, we derive more happiness from the anticipation of the purchase than the actual purchase.  “Why do we fail to recognize that consuming later can enhance enjoyment?  Research shows that when something nice is available immediately, the “power of now” dwarfs all else” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 90).  “It’s difficult to overcome the power of now, but it’s possible to harness this force” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 102-103).

Both the Development and Things Levels.  What happens in experiential purchases (over time) versus material-transaction purchases, when both the development and things levels of reality are perceived?  “Research shows that satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase with the passage of time, while satisfaction with material purchases tends to decrease” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 23-24).  “Because the benefits of experiences are often more abstract than the benefits of material goods, it’s easier to appreciate the value of experiential purchases with the psychological distance that time provides”  (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 23).

And the Possibility Level. “The ability to generate pleasant thoughts about the future is a hallmark of psychological health…Anticipating good things produces a distinct pattern of neural activation in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain linked to the experience of pleasure and reward” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 82; Knutson & Peterson, 2005, p. 310).  “The same region of the brain that responds when we anticipate something good (the nucleus accumbens) loses interest once we’ve gotten it” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 86; Knutson & Peterson, 2005, p. 310).

The authors suggest five principles of happy money, making choices about how we spend money on experiences we have in all three levels of perceived reality (possibility, development, things), and not just the things level.  They provide the research that shows these five principles will increase the happiness we derive from the use of our money.  I highly recommend Happy Money as a very accessible journey through the research that shows how to get the most value of one’s experiences around money.


Kahneman, Daniel, & Deaton, Angus. (2010). High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489-16493.

Kahneman, Daniel, Krueger, Alan B, Schkade, David, Schwarz, Norbert, & Stone, Arthur A. (2006). Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?  A Focusing Illusion. Science, 312(5782), 1908-1910.

Knutson, Brian, & Peterson, Richard. (2005). Neurally Reconstructing Expected Utility. Games and Economic Behavior, 52(2), 305-315.