Global study: Money can make you hap­pier

But day-to-day feel­ings de­pend a lot on other fac­tors

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Rob Stein

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.”

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