New Study Gets to the Truth of “Money Buying Happiness”

They say money doesn't buy happiness, but how much money you make can effect the way you experience it, according to this new scientific study.

Walletptnphoto/ShutterstockWhile it’s true that money can’t buy happiness, having money has certain benefits. For example, money can buy you time to do things that make you happier, and giving away some of your money can make you happier as well. Now scientists from the University of California at Irvine have found that how much money you make may impact HOW you experience happiness; higher earners are more likely to experience positive emotions focused on themselves, whereas lower earners are more likely to experience positive emotions focused on connecting with other people, according to their recent study that was published by the American Psychological Association in the journal, Emotion.

Prior research has already established that social class underlies differential patterns of attending to the self versus orienting to others. Wishing to delve into what that means, the scientists, Paul K. Piff, PhD and Jake Moskowitz, graduate student and research fellow, used data from an existing survey of 1,519 U.S. adults between the ages of 24 to 93, randomly sampled to be representative of the entire U.S. population. From the survey, Dr. Piff and Moskowitz compiled the household income of each person and analyzed how each person experienced the seven emotions that are believed to underlie happiness: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love, and pride.

What they found was that a higher income was associated with the happiness-related emotions of contentment, pride, and amusement, all of which are self-focused in nature. A lower income was associated with more other-oriented happiness-related emotions: compassion, love, and awe. There were no differences observed with regard to enthusiasm.

As to reasons for the disparity, the researchers hypothesize that “whereas pride and contentment may reflect upper class individuals’ desire for independence and self-sufficiency, increased love and compassion may help lower class individuals form more harmonious, interdependent bonds to help cope with their more threatening environments—an intriguing avenue for future research.” In other words, the researchers are not saying that any one way of deriving happiness is better than another, but rather that the way one derives happiness may be a product of existing and coping within one’s particular circumstances.

If you’re looking to feel happier in general, consider talking about this one thing every day.

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Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.