At some point in your life, a family member probably told you that “money can’t buy happiness.” And another family member might have added: “Yeah, but it sure can rent it for a while.” The relationship between money and happiness is a topic that people just can’t resist discussing — and one that researchers can’t resist studying.
The latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a technique called experience sampling to determine whether money influences feelings of well-being. The sampling asked people to repeatedly complete short surveys about their emotions, their feelings, and their satisfaction with life at random points during their days, through an app called “Track Your Happiness.” The study sought to measure overall satisfaction with life and how people feel in the moment, and assembled 1.7 million data points from more than 33,000 participants. The study then determined average levels of well-being for participants and compared them to income.
A well-known 2010 study of happiness and money determined that happiness does increase with earnings, but that money-related happiness plateaus at the $75,000 income level. The most recent study, in contrast, found no cut-off point. Instead, it concluded that all forms of well-being continue to increase as income rises. And, according to the lead researcher, the reason for the connection between money and happiness is that money gives people a sense of more control over their own lives and better choices about their lives. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. And it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that the study found that people who earn more work longer hours and feel stress about their work.
I’m confident this won’t be the last study of money and happiness, although I really wonder whether such an elusive connection can really be studied and quantified in a meaningful way. It makes sense that people with more money feel more control over their lives and have a sense of well-being simply because they know they can eat and have a roof over their heads and aren’t always lurching from one financial crisis to another, buffeted by forces beyond their control. But I also know people with lots of money who aren’t very happy, and people with modest incomes who lead rich, fulfilled lives. There doesn’t seem to be a cosmic formula, with money and happiness being two elements in the equation, that applies to everyone.