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Can experiencing the best that life has to offer undermine
one’s ability to savor everyday joys? This question arises from
one of the most puzzling findings in well-being research: that
objective life circumstances explain little of the variance in
individual happiness levels (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Sch-
kade, 2005). In particular, income appears to have a surpris-
ingly modest impact on happiness (e.g., Aknin, Norton, &
Dunn, 2009), especially in wealthy societies (Diener & Oishi,
2000; Veenhoven, 1991). Although a number of explanations
have been proposed for the weakness of the money-happiness
relationship (e.g., Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008), one of the
most intriguing—but untested—explanations lies in what
Gilbert (2006) termed the experience-stretching hypothesis.
According to this perspective, experiencing the best things in
life—such as surfing Oahu’s famous North Shore or dining at
Manhattan’s four-star restaurant Daniel—may actually miti-
gate the delight one experiences in response to the more mun-
dane joys of life, such as sunny days, cold beers, and chocolate
bars (Gilbert, 2006; Parducci, 1995).
Wealth, of course, opens the door to a wide range of experi-
ences, from lattes and pedicures to fine dining and luxury travel.
Indeed, just thinking about wealth may increase one’s perceived
access to such enjoyable experiences, introducing the risk that
everyday pleasures will be taken for granted. Consistent with
this reasoning, research findings suggest that even subtle
reminders of wealth can exert profound effects on thought and
behavior. In particular, priming individuals with the concept of
money or wealth appears to increase their feelings of self-suffi-
ciency (Vohs, Mead, & Goode, 2006, 2008). In other words,
merely thinking about money may lead people to believe that
any experiences they desire are potentially obtainable. Unfortu-
nately, such perceptions of abundance may run counter to the
appreciation of pleasurable experiences. In one of the few stud-
ies on this topic, Kurtz (2008) found that college seniors derived
greater happiness from the final weeks of college when they
were led to feel that graduation was impending than when they
thought of graduation as being very far off, which suggests that
scarcity may increase savoring. Theorists describe savoring as a
form of emotion regulation used to prolong and enhance posi-
tive emotional experiences (Bryant, 1989, 2003). Researchers
have identified four common strategies—that can be employed
Jordi Quoidbach, Personality and Individual Differences Unit, University of
Liège, 5 Blvd. du Rectorat, 4000 Liège, Belgium
E-mail: [email protected]
Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away:
The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness
Jordi Quoidbach1, Elizabeth W. Dunn2, K.V. Petrides3,
and Moïra Mikolajczak4,5
1University of Liège, 2University of British Columbia, 3University College London, 4Université Catholique de Louvain,
and 5Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research, Brussels, Belgium
This study provides the first evidence that money impairs people’s ability to savor everyday positive emotions and experiences.
In a sample of working adults, wealthier individuals reported lower savoring ability (the ability to enhance and prolong positive
emotional experience). Moreover, the negative impact of wealth on individuals’ ability to savor undermined the positive effects of
money on their happiness. We experimentally exposed participants to a reminder of wealth and produced the same deleterious
effect on their ability to savor as that produced by actual individual differences in wealth, a result supporting the theory that
money has a causal effect on savoring. Moving beyond self-reports, we found that participants exposed to a reminder of wealth
spent less time savoring a piece of chocolate and exhibited reduced enjoyment of it compared with participants not exposed to
wealth. This article presents evidence supporting the widely held but previously untested belief that having access to the best
things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures.
money, savoring, happiness, positive emotion regulation
Received 7/7/09; Revision accepted 11/17/09
760 Quoidbach et al.
alone or in combination—to savor a positive event, including
displaying positive emotions nonverbally, staying present in the
moment, thinking about the event before and afterward, and
telling others about the event (Quoidbach, 2009; Tugade &
We hypothesized that savoring may be undermined by
financial wealth, because of the abundance of pleasurable
experience that wealth promises. To test this hypothesis, we
carried out a preliminary study of wealth and savoring, and
observed a significant negative correlation (r = –.21) between
individuals’ income and their self-reported savoring ability. In
the experiments reported in this article, we attempted to repli-
cate this finding, and also investigated the causal relationship
between wealth and savoring. Because the ability to savor pro-
motes happiness (Bryant, 1989, 2003; Bryant, Smart, & King,
2005; Meehan, Durlak, & Bryant, 1993; Quoidbach, 2009;
Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007), we further hypothesized that
the negative effect of wealth on savoring may counteract the
other emotional benefits that money provides, thereby dimin-
ishing the positive correlation between money and happiness.
Thus, in Study 1, we examined the association between wealth
and savoring ability, and tested whether the positive relation-
ship between wealth and happiness is undermined by the nega-
tive effect of wealth on savoring. In addition, we manipulated
the salience of money to test whether reminders of wealth
reduce self-reported savoring ability. To address an alternative
causal path, we examined whether savoring ability reduces the
desire to pursue wealth. In Study 2, we moved beyond self-
report and tested whether thinking about money leads people
to exhibit reduced savoring behavior when presented with one
of the small pleasures of daily life.
Participants. We recruited 374 adult employees of the Uni-
versity of Liège, from custodial staff to senior administrators,
for an online survey. Twenty-three participants declined to
answer money-related questions, which left a total of 351 par-
ticipants (66% females, 34% males; ages 21–89 years, M =
37.9 years, SD = 12.9).
Procedure. To test whether thinking about money has a causal
impact on savoring, we randomly assigned participants to a
money prime or a control condition. In the prime condition,
the questionnaire displayed a photograph of a large stack of
euro bills―a mental priming technique that has been used suc-
cessfully in other studies (Vohs et al., 2006, 2008) to increase
accessibility of the concept of money at a level below aware-
ness. In the control condition, the same photograph on the
questionnaire was blurred beyond recognition. The question-
naire included items measuring savoring ability, happiness,
desire for future wealth, and current wealth (in that order).
Savoring. Participants completed the Emotion Regulation
Profile-Revised, a vignette-based instrument measuring indi-
viduals’ typical ability to regulate both negative and positive
emotions. This measure has good psychometric properties,
including strong convergent, divergent, and predictive validity
(Nelis, Quoidbach, Hansenne, & Mikolajczak, in press; see
also Quoidbach, Berry, Hansenne, & Mikolajczak, in press).
Of interest in the present study was the Savoring Positive
Emotion Scale, which includes six detailed descriptions of
situations that elicit contentment, joy, awe, excitement, pride,
and gratitude. For example, participants are asked to imagine
finishing an important task (contentment), spending a roman-
tic weekend away (joy), or discovering an amazing waterfall
while hiking (awe). Each scenario is followed by eight possi-
ble reactions, including the four savoring strategies referred to
in the introduction (i.e., displaying positive emotions, staying
present, anticipating or reminiscing about the event, and
telling other people about the experience). Participants are
required to select the response or responses that best character-
ize what their typical behavior in each situation would be, and
receive 1 point for each savoring strategy selected. Partici-
pants’ scores across the different scenarios are then aggregated
into an overall savoring score (α = .83).
Happiness. We assessed participants’ global subjective hap-
piness using the well-validated Subjective Happiness Scale
(Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999), which includes four 7-point
items (α = .84).
Desire for wealth. Two open-ended items asked participants
to indicate their ideal income and how much money they
would need to win in a hypothetical lottery in order to live the
life of their dreams, allowing us to assess whether savoring
ability was related to desire for wealth.
Current wealth. We asked participants to report their life
savings on a 7-point scale, ranging from 1 (under €1,000) to 7
(over €75,000), as well as to report their monthly income after
taxes. Responses on these items, which were positively corre-
lated (r = .38, p < .001), were standardized and aggregated to
create an overall wealth index.
Current wealth, money prime, and savoring. To test whether
wealth and the money prime produced similar, deleterious
effects on savoring, we entered participant’s current wealth
index and experimental condition into a regression predicting
savoring scores. We found that participants’ wealth signifi-
cantly predicted lower ability to savor positive emotions, β =
–0.17, t(348) = 3.18, p < .01, which was consistent with our
hypothesis. Similarly, in comparison to the control group, par-
ticipants assigned to the money-prime condition exhibited sig-
nificantly lower savoring scores, β = –0.11, t(348) = 1.99, p <
.05. Thus, both individual differences in wealth and a situa-
tional prime designed to increase thoughts of wealth produced
Money, Savoring, and Happiness 761
similar negative effects, suggesting that thinking about wealth
plays a causal role in impairing savoring.
Savoring and desire for wealth. To test an alternative causal
pathway—that savoring increases contentment with one’s
existing situation, reducing one’s desire to pursue money—we
entered savoring ability scores into regressions predicting par-
ticipants’ desired incomes and lottery winnings.1 We found
that savoring ability did not predict either desired income, β =
–0.08, t(333) = 1.47, p = .14, or lottery winnings, β = 0.08,
t(302) = 1.37, p = .17.
Current wealth, savoring, and happiness. To investigate how
wealth and savoring relate to happiness, we first entered savor-
ing ability into a regression predicting happiness, controlling for
experimental condition. We found that savoring ability posi-
tively predicted happiness (β = 0.34, p < .001), a result consis-
tent with past research (e.g., Bryant, 2003; Quoidbach et al., in
press). We conducted another regression analysis replacing
savoring ability with wealth, and found a modest, but reliable
relationship between wealth and happiness (β = 0.12, p < .03),
which was also consistent with previous research (e.g., Aknin
et al., 2009). Because wealth was negatively related to savor-
ing (as discussed in the previous section) and savoring was
positively related to happiness, we tested whether savoring sup-
presses the relationship between wealth and happiness. A sup-
pressor is defined as “a variable which increases the predictive
validity of another variable . . . by its inclusion in a regression
equation” (Conger, 1974, p. 36). Following the recommenda-
tions of MacKinnon, Krull, and Lockwood (2000), we per-
formed mediation analyses to determine whether the effect of
wealth on happiness was weakened by the ability to savor posi-
tive emotion (Baron & Kenny, 1986). As shown in Figure 1,
when we included savoring ability with wealth in a regression
predicting happiness, wealth became a stronger predictor of
happiness (β = 0.18, p < .001). We performed a Sobel test and
confirmed that savoring ability suppressed the relationship
between wealth and happiness (z = 2.91, p < .01).
Our results from Study 1 support the hypothesis that wealth
may impair savoring; individual differences in wealth and a
situational reminder of wealth produced similar deleterious
effects on participants’ ability to savor. Conversely, we also
found that participants’ ability to savor positive emotions was
unrelated to their desire for wealth. These findings further
demonstrate that the emotional benefits of wealth are under-
mined by the negative impact of wealth on savoring; when we
controlled for savoring ability, the relationship between wealth
and happiness increased significantly. Thus, wealth may fail to
deliver the happiness one might expect because of its detri-
mental consequences for savoring. However, given the long-
standing debates regarding the extent to which people can be
accurately aware of their own emotion-regulation styles (e.g.,
Salovey & Grewal, 2005), we sought to replicate our central
finding—that wealth reduces savoring—using a behavioral
measure of savoring. As we found that the wealth prime pro-
duced the same effect as actual wealth on savoring in Study 1,
while permitting causal inferences, we also used priming to
investigate whether wealth reminders could produce observ-
able variations in savoring one of life’s small delights:
Participants. Forty participants (57% females, 43% males;
ages 16–59 years, M = 23.0 years, SD = 7.5) on the University
of British Columbia campus volunteered for a taste-test study.
Procedure. Participants completed a brief questionnaire that
requested their demographic information and assessed their
attitudes toward chocolate. The questionnaire was presented to
each participant in a binder, and the adjacent page showed
materials from an “unrelated study,” including a picture of
Canadian money or a neutral photo. Next, participants were
instructed to eat a piece of chocolate and, when ready, to com-
plete a brief follow-up questionnaire.
Behavioral measures of savoring. Two observers (who were
blind to condition) surreptitiously watched each participant
eating the chocolate. Because savoring food entails staying
present in the moment, and taking the time to appreciate and
reap pleasure from it (Macht, Meininger, & Roth, 2005), we
asked the observers to measure the amount of time participants
spent eating the chocolate (using stopwatches). To capture the
extent to which participants displayed positive emotions while
eating, observers also rated how much enjoyment participants
displayed, on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (a great deal).
Given that observers showed high correspondence in their
measurements of participants’ eating time (r = .99, p <.01) and
β = 0.34**
β = 0.18**
(β = 0.12*)
β = –0.17**
Fig. 1. Results of regression analyses testing the suppressing effect of
savoring in the relationship between wealth and happiness (*p < .05, **p <
.01). The effect of wealth on happiness when savoring was not included in the
model is indicated in parentheses.
762 Quoidbach et al.
ratings of enjoyment (r = .71, p < .01), their scores were
Results and discussion
Because females spent significantly more time savoring the
chocolate than males did (β = 0.53, p < .01), we conducted
analyses of covariance comparing participants’ eating time
and enjoyment between conditions, controlling for gender, as
well as baseline attitudes toward chocolate. In comparison
with participants in the control condition, those in the money-
prime condition spent significantly less time eating the choco-
late, F(1, 31) = –6.02, p = .02, and displayed significantly less
enjoyment, F(1, 35) = 9.85, p < .01 (see Table 1). Thus, a sim-
ple reminder of wealth undermined participants’ ability to
savor the pleasurable experience of eating chocolate, as they
devoted less time to eating it and exhibited lower levels of
enjoyment of the experience.
This research provides the first evidence that money interferes
with people’s ability to savor positive emotions and experi-
ences. In a large sample of working adults, we found that
wealthier individuals reported lower savoring ability. Indeed,
the negative impact of money on savoring undercut other emo-
tional benefits provided by money. We found that experimen-
tally exposing participants to a reminder of wealth produced
the same negative effect on savoring as actual wealth did, a
result supporting the notion that money causally influences
savoring. Moving beyond self-report, we observed that a
reminder of wealth led participants to devote less time to
savoring a piece of chocolate and to exhibit reduced enjoy-
ment from this small pleasure of everyday life.
Thus, we found converging evidence for our hypothesis
using (a) a broad self-report measure, which assessed the use of
four savoring strategies across six different scenarios, and (b) a
more focused behavioral measure of savoring that captured the
extent to which participants stayed present and displayed posi-
tive emotion to prolong and enhance the experience of eating
chocolate. Our behavioral measure was not designed to capture
the interpersonal or intertemporal components of savoring, and
it would therefore be interesting to test whether wealth produces
observable differences in the extent to which people reminisce
and tell other people about their positive experiences.
Taken together, our findings provide evidence for the pro-
vocative and intuitively appealing—yet previously untested—
notion that having access to the best things in life may actually
undermine one’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small
pleasures. Moving beyond past theorizing, our research dem-
onstrates that a simple reminder of wealth produces the same
deleterious effects as actual wealth on an individual’s ability to
savor, suggesting that perceived access to pleasurable experi-
ences may be sufficient to impair everyday savoring. In other
words, one need not actually visit the pyramids of Egypt or
spend a week at the legendary Banff spas in Canada for one’s
savoring ability to be impaired—simply knowing that these
peak experiences are readily available may increase one’s ten-
dency to take the small pleasures of daily life for granted.
This perspective is consistent with the intriguing theoretical
notion that hedonic adaptation may occur not only in response
to past experiences, but also in response to anticipated future
experiences (Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999). Regarding past
experiences, research has begun to examine individual differ-
ences in the extent to which memories of the past can either
enhance or diminish joy in the present (Liberman, Boehm,
Lyubomirsky, & Ross, 2009). Thus, an important research goal
lies in delineating when, how, and for whom awesome life
experiences—in the past and future—shape the extent to which
individuals savor diverse pleasures in the present.
Our findings also contribute to a new wave of research on
money and happiness; whereas a great deal of previous
research focused on documenting the magnitude of the rela-
tionship between money and happiness (see Diener & Biswas-
Diener, 2002, for a review), researchers are increasingly
moving toward examining when and why money promotes
happiness, in order to understand their surprisingly weak con-
nection (e.g., Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008; Van Boven,
2005). Our studies provide a novel contribution by demon-
strating that the emotional benefits that money gives with one
hand (i.e., access to pleasurable experiences), it takes away
with the other by undercutting the ability to relish the small
delights of daily living.
We would like to thank Dan Gilbert.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
The French Community of Belgium (Grant ARC 06/11-340) and the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada sup-
ported this research.
1. Given the significant effect of the money-prime manipulation,
all subsequent analyses were computed controlling for experimental
Table 1. Measures of Savoring in the Two Conditions of Study 2
Observers’ rating of
Condition Mean SD Mean SD
Money prime 32.0 14.4 3.6 1.2
Control 45.4 29.0 5.0 1.2
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