Can money buy you happiness? It depends
A recent study suggests that the link between money and happiness may be more complicated than previously thought.
For most people, the researchers say, more money means more happiness, but note that “if you’re rich and miserable, more money won’t help.”
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University in a study published March 1 Scientific Bulletin of the National Academy of Sciencesfound that, on average, higher incomes were associated with higher levels of happiness.
But for some, especially those who are most unlucky, that happiness hits $100,000 a year and then rises, the researchers say.
“Put simply, this suggests that for most people, higher incomes are associated with higher happiness,” said Matthew Killingsworth, a senior research fellow at the Penn Wharton School and lead author of the paper. published by Penn Today.
“People who are financially secure, but unhappy, are an exception. For example, if you are rich and miserable, more money will not help.
The study attempts to reconcile conflicting findings from Penn and Princeton researchers about the effect that higher incomes have on overall happiness.
A 2021 Killingsworth study found that happiness increases with incomes above $75,000, while a 2010 Princeton study found happiness above $75,000.
Both sides chose to work together on what they called “adversarial collaboration,” which is described as a process in which different parties collaborate with a third-party mediator to resolve scientific disputes or disagreements.
Through this, they found that happiness fluctuates depending on a person’s emotional well-being.
For those who are least happy, happiness rises to $100,000 in income, but not beyond.
Individuals with average happiness saw their happiness increase directly with income, while the happiest groups saw their happiness rise above $100,000.
The researchers cited data from Killingworth’s 2021 Penn study, in which he used an app called Track Your Happiness to ask users how they were feeling at random points during any given day.
But they say their breakthrough came when they looked at data from 2010, where happiness rose, and found that it revealed more about a trend in unhappy people than happiness in general.
“Once you realize that, two seemingly contradictory findings are not necessarily incompatible,” Killingsworth said.
“And what we found demonstrated that possibility in an incredibly beautiful way. When we looked at the happiness trend of unhappy people in 2021 data, we found the same pattern that was found in 2010: happiness rises relatively steeply with income and then plateaus.”
Ultimately, the 2010 study overestimated this plateau effect, while the 2021 study failed to find it, the study notes.
“Two findings that seemed completely contradictory are actually the result of data that are surprisingly consistent,” Killingsworth said.
Research referee Barbara Mellers pointed out the advantages of adversarial collaboration in resolving scientific controversies.
Killingsworth adds that the findings have real-world implications, from thinking about tax rates and worker compensation to how people navigate their careers and weigh income against other life priorities.
“Money is only one of many determinants of happiness,” he said. “Money isn’t the secret to happiness, but it can probably help a little.”
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