Global study: Money can make you happier
But day-to-day feelings depend a lot on other factors
Money, it turns out, really can buy you happiness — or at least one form of it, according to the biggest study to examine the relationship between income and well-being around the world.
Pulling in the big bucks makes people more likely to say they are happy with their lives overall — whether they are young or old, male or female, or living in cities or remote villages, the survey of more than 136,000 people in 132 countries found.
But the survey also showed that a key element of what many people consider happi- ness — positive feelings — is much more strongly affected by factors other than cold, hard cash, such as feeling respected, being in control of your life and having friends and family to rely on in a pinch.
“Yes, money makes you happy — we see the effect of income on life satisfaction is very strong and virtually ubiquitous and universal around the world,” said Ed Diener, a University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology who led the study. “But it makes you more satisfied than it makes you feel good. Positive feelings are less affected by money and more affected by the things people are doing day to day.”
The new survey is the first large international study to differentiate between overall life satisfaction and day-to-day emotions.
“It’s sort of a new era for the study of well-being,” said Daniel Kahneman, a professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
The reason for the distinction is probably that when people are asked whether they are “happy,” the first thing they do, wherever they are, is take stock of their lives by comparing themselves to their equivalent of “the Joneses” using the most obvious measure: income, several experts said.
“When people evaluate their life, they compare themselves to a standard of what a successful life is, and it turns out that standard tends to be universal: People in Togo and Denmark have the same idea of what a good life is, and a lot of that has to do with money and material prosperity,” Kahneman said.
The new survey, dubbed the “first representative sample of planet Earth,” was conducted by Gallup and involved questioning in 2005 and 2006 of 136,839 residents age 15 and older.
Life satisfaction was directly and strongly correlated with income, with the impact felt equally among all ages, men and women, and rural villagers and urban dwellers in virtually every corner of the globe, the researchers report in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Although money also influenced emotions, the effect was much weaker. Both positive and negative emotions tended to be affected much more in relation to other psychological and social factors, such as feeling respected, having autonomy, strong social support and working at a fulfilling job.
“What we didn’t know before is the extent to which life evaluation and emotional well-being are so distinct,” Kahneman said. “When you look at the books about wellbeing, you see one word — it’s happiness. People do not distinguish.”
But day-to-day positive feelings depend a lot on other things, which also turn out to be fairly universal and help clarify what makes people content, researchers said.
“Money can make you feel better in a limited way,” said Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But positive feelings like enjoyment and laughing can do a whole lot more for people. They can help people grow and learn and become a more resilient, better version of yourself.”