Earlier this month psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahnemann and Angus Deaton of renowned Princeton University published a study in which they related the “well-being” of American people to their income. In a country that constitutes the “pursuit of happiness” in their declaration of independence, the press had a field day with this article of course.
The Bloomberg Businessweek came up with a more daring headline: “After $75,000, Money Can’t Buy Day-to-Day Happiness”
And a blog which I will not name here takes the cake with “Money Can Buy Happiness, Study Finds — But Only Up To $75,000”
Wow, have we found the ultimate answer to one of the essential questions in life now? Do we know now that money will make us happy, at least to a certain extent? And can we indeed identify that what we all should aim for is the optimum income of 75,000 US$ a year?
The answer is: not quite…
In the information age with an attention span of seconds rather then minutes on the web, I understand that a headline needs to be snappy and flashy to grab some of the busy reader’s very limited attention.
And who would ever take the time to google the original article in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”?
Well… I did…
Can you guess what the original title of the study is? Money can buy you happiness? 75,000 US$ income guarantees you fulfillment in life?
No. You may be disappointed:
Woo. I admit, that’s a bit dry – but it is straight forward – and has not much to do with the Businessweek’s and others’ catchy titles anymore.
Moreover, the authors rarely use the term “happiness” in their article at all! As if to consciously avoid it. Instead, they painstakingly distinguish between the two above mentioned terms:
Emotional well-being refers to “the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience – the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant”
Whereaslife evaluation “refers to the thoughts that people have about their life when they think about it.”
The key statements from the research as I see them are basically summarized in the headline already and confirm what many of us assumed: more money makes life at least easier and leads to a higher life evaluation. Interestingly, also emotional well-being is rated higher at higher income. However, whereas the earlier continues to be rated higher the higher the income, the latter “stalls” at a certain income level (which is for the US around 75,000 $).
If you love insight and scientific accuracy, I suggest to read the original
All I would like to do here is to highlight are some details not mentioned in most of the news articles.
So, here’s Some food for thought for your weekend:
- The US ranks 9th on the so called “Cantril’s Self –Anchoring Scale (0 the worst possible life for you, 10 the best possible life for you) compared with about 150 other countries. At the same time, the US ranks low (in a negative sense) on worries (89th) and very high in levels of stress (5th)
- Being a college graduate is associated with high life evaluation (…) but also – all other factors being equal – college graduates report more stress than non-graduates.
- The Gallup World Poll found high levels of stress in high-GDP countries.
- The presence of children at home is associated with significant increases in stress, sadness, and worry.
- Religion has a substantial influence on improving positive affect and reducing reports of stress, but no effect on reducing sadness or worry.
I find the depth of the study and the researchers’ acumen absolutely amazing. On one hand. On the other hand, I wonder if we are now trying to find scientific answers for what simply cannot be answered.
Would you now refrain from having children because the study suggests this will be associated with stress, sadness, and worries?
Only you yourself can answer what it is that you want from life. As long as you are living in freedom, you decide what your needs and your wants are; what you need to do and what you need to avoid to find happiness and fulfillment in life, no matter whether you are talking about emotional well-being or life evaluation.
Take a time-out maybe this weekend and go on a journey to yourself. It will be worth the trip.
Life is not linear. Life is not simple. Life is complex. And it’s perfect this way. Enjoy!