It seems your mother was completely wrong – money can buy you happiness, or at any rate satisfaction. But it doesn’t necessarily help you enjoy yourself.
A (well-paid, one hopes) team of Gallup market researchers questioned more than 136,000 people in 132 countries and found that life satisfaction usually rises with income.
“The public always wonders: Does money make you happy?” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization.
“This study shows that it all depends on how you define happiness, because if you look at life satisfaction, how you evaluate your life as a whole, you see a pretty strong correlation around the world between income and happiness,” he said.
“On the other hand it’s pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself.”
The researchers looked at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living, whether their basic needs for food and shelter were met, what kinds of conveniences they owned and whether they felt their psychological needs were satisfied.
Respondents were asked to rate their lives on a scale that ranged from zero (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible life), as well as answering questions about positive or negative emotions experienced the previous day.
They were also asked whether they felt respected, whether they had family and friends they could count on in an emergency, and how free they felt to choose their daily activities, learn new things or do ‘what one does best’.
The analysis found that life satisfaction rises with personal and national income.
But positive feelings, while they do increase somewhat as income rises, are much more strongly associated with other factors, such as feeling respected, having autonomy and social support, and working at a fulfilling job.
This is the first ‘happiness’ study of the world to differentiate between life satisfaction, the philosophical belief that your life is going well, and the day-to-day positive or negative feelings that one experiences, Diener said.
“Everybody has been looking at just life satisfaction and income,” he said. “And while it is true that getting richer will make you more satisfied with your life, it may not have the big impact we thought on enjoying life.”