Having money is a way to achieve happiness, even if it’s not an end in itself. Being rich allows you to move beyond everyday problems and focus on what happiness really is.
According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania money directly affects our level of happiness, and there is no maximum amount that stops this happiness. The results of the study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers collected 1.7 million sets of data from 33,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 65. In most previous studies linking happiness and money, experimenters focused primarily on assessing well-being, which includes overall life satisfaction. Researchers in this study focused also on how people feel at the time.
Money Makes life easier
Using a special application developed for the study, Track Your Happiness, participants were able to record their well-being several times a day. Among the questions asked, researchers tried to figure out how people were feeling at the time, with a scale ranging from “very bad” to “very good.” In addition, at least once during the trial, participants answered the question “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?” on a scale from “not at all” to “extremely” as a measure of evaluative well-being.
To refine the results, evaluative well-being was divided into 12 specific feelings, five of which were positive (confidence, good, inspired, interested, and proud) and seven of which were negative (fear, anger, bad, boredom, sadness, stress, and disgust). “This process provided repeated snapshots of people’s lives that collectively gave us a composite picture of their lives in slow motion,” says Matthew Killingsworth, a University of Pennsylvania professor who specializes in human happiness and is the lead author of the study. Researchers often talk about trying to get a representative sample of the population. I was trying to get a representative sample of moments in people’s lives.
The average level of well-being of each participant was calculated and then analyzed based on their income. The goal was to see if the conclusion of a 2010 study on the subject was still relevant, namely that the link between money and happiness ends once annual family income reaches $75,000. “It’s a compelling possibility, the idea that money doesn’t matter beyond that point, at least for what people actually feel from moment to moment,” Matthew Killingsworth said. “But when I looked at a wide range of income levels, I found that all forms of well-being continued to increase with income. I didn’t see a curve, a tipping point, where money no longer mattered. Instead, well-being continued to increase.”
Money is not an end in itself
So instead of every dollar being equally important to every person, every dollar starts to matter less to high-income people. “One would expect two people earning $25,000 and $50,000, respectively, to have the same difference in well-being as two people earning $100,000 and $200,000, respectively. In other words, proportional income differences have the same importance to everyone. But that’s not the case: it turns out that people who earn more money are happier, in part because of a greater sense of control over one’s life. Having a financial base allows us to detach ourselves from the day-to-day worries that can get in the way. When the amount of money becomes substantial, the sense of control over life and independence also increases.
However, it would be simplistic to think that having money makes you happy because money brings with it other constraints that people without money do not have. “While money can be good for happiness, I’ve found that people who need money and success are less happy than those who do not,” says Matthew Killingsworth. I also found that people who made more money worked longer hours and felt more time pressure. The reality is that while money brings us closer to the definition of happiness, it is only one way to achieve it and income is only a modest determinant. In short, money does not make happiness, but it does contribute to it.