When Money Does Bring Happiness

12/04/2012

 

Brand X Pictures
Brand X Pictures

So often in our own quest for happiness we’re sent down the wrong path, lost in a maze of choices. We end up wondering where we went wrong and how, in all our effort, we still fall short. But science is playing a major role in revealing how attaining happiness and daily bliss isn’t as difficult as previously thought.

Money and material wealth appears to be at the center of the argument once again. A study of rich and poor countries found that individual wealth and material possessions are linked to happiness, but there are a few caveats. Individual wealth paired with optimism for the future and satisfaction in what you already have are key. So overconsumption and always wanting more DOES NOT make us happy. 

Money and Optimism

Researchers looked at data from over 135 nations between 2005 and 2011 that included 806, 526 individuals from a Gallop World Poll. They answered questions about overall life satisfaction and positive and negative emotions experienced the previous day. The study looked at two measures of income: household and cost of living adjusted purchasing power. 

LiveScience reports:

Overall, as household income increased, so did life satisfaction and positive emotions for 64 percent of the countries. An increase in four factors together — income, material goods, standard-of-living satisfaction and optimism — increased life evaluations in 95 percent of the countries surveyed.

Purchasing power was less important to overall happiness. The bottom line, according to LiveScience, “the rich are on average happier than the poor, though higher average incomes aren't always followed by a bump in happiness.”

Societal Comparisons

The reason why the United States, the richest nation in the world, isn’t also the happiest results from societal comparisons. Basically, we base our own happiness not on life satisfaction, but on how we’re doing when compared with our neighbors, which is not a good basis for happiness. 

While economic growth and the living standards that go along with it may be a good thing, excessive wealth does little to contribute to happiness. People have a threshold of financial security and material well-being and once they've reached it, there are diminishing returns on salaries exceeding that amount. Financial security is certainly an aspect of happiness, that is-- paying mortgage or rent, utilities, food, basic possessions, and then whatever is left over for savings--but beyond that, money has little bearing on our outlook and overall happiness.

 

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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