Reward-seeking behavior

If you’ve ever envied the wealthy or worried about the “plight of the poor,” chances are you understand on some level a concept most people refuse to believe: Money buys happiness. Nothing secures a smile on a child’s face quite like a shiny new toy, nothing promotes an ecstatic response quite like a big cash prize, and nothing means true love quite like a diamond ring.

You may have heard that the best things in life are free, but have you considered the costs associated with even the most trivial of small joys? Principally, currency is responsible for everything you eat, the roof over your head, and the ways you interact with other people. Picture yourself without any money, and if the image doesn’t bleakly resemble every rotten stereotype you’ve heard about the homeless, your imagination is sorely lacking.

Beyond staving off les douleurs de la mort, though, every purchase — no matter how unnecessary for simple survival needs — is a direct withdrawal from your bank account that is then deposited directly into your happiness.

While it is immediately evident that buying a sandwich to satisfy your hunger is going to make you happy, it may be less clear that watching TV on a bigger screen, driving a faster car, or dressing more fashionably would also facilitate a positive demeanor; if you believe, though, that more expensive, better products aren’t ultimately going to yield more happiness than their inferior counterparts, then I’m sure you don’t waste your time working hours unnecessary for the fulfillment of basic, physical necessities.

But if the tendencies of consumers are taken as any reliable indication of how our society functions, it seems patently obvious that MasterCard should adjust its advertising slogan: There’s nothing money can’t buy, and for anything at all, there’s spending. As long as our Pavlovian benefactors continue to ring the bell, we’ll keep drooling over whatever tantalizing, surrogate satisfaction they put in our bowls — because we know what makes us happy, and that’s buying things.

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