Money Can’t Buy Happiness (but it can help)

Recent research reveals that while life satisfaction usually rises with income, day-to-day happiness comes from other things.

According to a University of Illinois news release, the Gallup World Poll conducted surveys on a wide range of subjects in a representative sample of people from 132 countries from 2005 to 2006, which included a global life evaluation, asking respondents to rate their lives on a scale that ranged from zero (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible life). Participants also answered questions about positive or negative emotions experienced the previous day, and the poll asked respondents 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.”   

Like previous studies, the new analysis found that life evaluation, or life satisfaction, rises with personal and national income. However positive feelings, which also 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 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,” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization, in the news release. “On the other hand it’s pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself.”  

Diener and his study co-authors Weiting Ng, of the Singapore Institute of Management, and James Harter and Raksha Arora, of The Gallup Organization, report the countries surveyed represent about 96% of the world’s population and reflect the diversity of cultural, economic and political realities around the globe. They claim 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.  

The findings appear this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.