Thursday, 13 February 2014

Money Can’t Buy Happiness… or Can It?

Here's one rich guy who certainly seems to be happy.
            Everyone’s heard those old clichés about how bad money is and its limitations. It is the root of all evil, but it isn’t everything. Money also makes the world go ‘round, talks, can’t buy me love, and does not grow on trees. However, one of the most often repeated phrases is the old adage “Money won’t buy you happiness”. At first glance this phrase raises a wise point about how material goods will not bring you everything in life, but it may not be telling the whole story. Recent research sheds an interesting light on the effect money can have on an individual’s well-being. Could it be true? Is it actually possible for money to make you happier? What about your whole country?

            Right now you may be asking yourself “How can money make a whole country happier?” well, hold your horses because I’m about to get to that. The Gallup World Poll is a massive survey that asks people around the world various questions about themselves and their life for research purposes. In their upcoming paper Tay, Morrison, and Diener (2014) used this data to see how an individual’s personal income and the national wealth of the country they lived in affected their feelings of well-being. Basically what they wanted to see was if those who earned more were happier than those who earned less. Also, by looking at a country’s national wealth they were able to compare people who lived in richer countries to those in poorer countries to see whether or not this had an effect on an individual citizen’s well-being. Who knows, maybe you won’t even have to be the one buying your own happiness if others in your country are wealthy enough…

If money doesn't make you happy
then I'm sure it won't be too hard
to find someone to take it
off your hands... any volunteers?
            Turns out that, according to this research, the rich actually are happier. What they found was that an individual’s personal income was related to reports of greater well-being. This means that, to an extent, if you make more money you’re more likely to feel happier about your life. This may seem fairly obvious to most people since, if you’re like me, you like making money. I mean, come on, what university student couldn’t use a bit extra? Perhaps more interesting than their findings about personal income was what they found about the effects of living in a richer or a poorer country. Turns out that even if you aren’t the one making a lot of money but are living in a richer country you’re more likely to report increased satisfaction with your life when compared to poorer countries. This spillover effect makes sense because, even if you’re not too wealthy, it’s still possible for you to reap the benefits of the health care, transportation services, and social support of your country. However, unfortunately all that glitters is not gold. It doesn’t seem to be entirely smooth sailing for individuals living in rich countries since the research shows they’re actually more likely to feel worse on a daily basis. Citizens of rich countries reported more feelings of worry and anger in their day-to-day lives than people from poor countries. It may be the case that living in a society that highly values money leads to more pressure and worry that you may not be making as much money as those around you.

            So, can money truly buy you happiness? Well, yes and no. The research suggests that there’s a relationship between increased earning and happiness. Additionally, living in a richer country seems to be related to feelings of greater life satisfaction but at the cost of more daily worries. Turns out money isn’t everything and it may be a good idea to have a back-up plan for happiness. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and you know what happy event that leads to… CHEAP CHOCOLATE!

Tay, L., Morrison, M., & Diener, E. (accepted). Living among the affluent: Boon or bane? Psychological Science.

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