Therapy Gives Bang for Your Buck

By Katie Goldsmith | December 11, 2009 | 2 comments

While some may believe that big happiness comes from a big dollar sign, a new study suggests otherwise. The study, published in Health Economics, Policy, and Law, suggests that psychological therapy could be tremendously more cost effective at making people happy than winning the lottery or getting a pay raise.

In the study, British psychologists Christopher Boyce and Alex Wood analyzed information provided by thousands of people about their psychological well-being. Boyce and Wood also examined a wide range of studies calculating the monetary costs or benefits of large life events like getting married or losing one's health. Through this analysis, they found that a happiness boost does occur after an individual wins a medium sized lottery, but they determined that this is nothing compared with the boost that occurs through psychological therapy. In fact, they found that therapy could be as much as 32 times more cost effective than financial compensation: to equal the happiness boost that comes from a course of therapy costing $1,329, you'd need a pay raise of more than $41,542.

These findings have widespread implications, even beyond our personal calculations for how to maximize our happiness. For example, in courtrooms across the country, judges find themselves having to put a monetary price on the "pain and suffering" experienced by plaintiffs. This study shows that financial compensation is not the only, nor is it the most effective, way of restoring a person's mental health to what it was before an injustice occurred.

Boyce and Wood's results suggest that we might overestimate the importance of money for improving well being—that new high-paying job might not be the surest route to happiness. The authors note that for society at large, "mental health in its own right is something to be valued alongside economic progress. … It needs to be understood that aspiring to good mental health can often be more important than aspiring to high income for well-being."

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Katie Goldsmith is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


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Perhaps the degree of happiness a person can experience is a matter of how much attention we have to focus on or devote to higher pursuits, acts of kindness and service, then we ought to diligently pursue more ways to free our attention. When we have our minds full from the mental storms of worries, fears, doubts, things that may siphon our attention away from our happiness, we naturally try to do something immediately to free it, like making a run to the video store, read a book, turn on the t.v., take a bike ride, buy new clothes, exercise vigorously, or even go skydiving. The point is that there are many ways we can free more attention to pursue things that create happiness, but what can we do long term to cultivate and sustain happiness? I would agree that psychological therapy can be greatly more cost effective than simply getting a great deal more of disposable income. However I would disagree on a ratio of pay raise of 42,000 to the cost of an effective therapy program or self-development practice costing several thousand, as a way to get the same amount of happiness. I feel if we pursue something that sustainably helps us to stay present, healthy, and happy, or creates a way to give this back to others, it’s essentially priceless.

A highly recommended program for human development I would put forth is Avatar.

It has developed an amazingly effective program to self-determinedly create, the cultivation of attitudes that can create happiness, and tools to create free attention. I feel the more we have, the more we have at our disposal to use as we choose.

Chris Sharp | 10:07 am, December 14, 2009 | Link


“This study shows that financial compensation is not the only, nor is it the most effective, way of restoring a person’s mental health to what it was before an injustice occurred.” This statement would only be true if we were only talking about mental pain and suffering and therapy was free. Of course individuals are compensated for physical pain and suffering as well as mental pain and suffering and therapy is far from free. Individual sessions regularly cost $120 to $150. Given that therapy is not free, and therapists who are seeing individuals coping with physical pain with also advise those individuals to obtain physical therapy (which is also expensive) then financial financial compensation is probably the best way of restoring individual’s mental health. Financial compensation allows individuals to purchase those services they need. And those people I know who had received these payments do use the money to purchase support services.

Michelle | 11:38 am, January 14, 2010 | Link

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