Does money buy happiness….or doesn’t it?


Many years ago, Richard Easterlin, a Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California, studied the relationship between happiness and money. He found that, over shorter periods of time, happiness and income tend to move in tandem. “Happiness tends to fall in economic contractions and rise in expansions.”

Over longer periods of time, he found satisfaction with life (i.e., happiness) had little relationship to rates of economic growth (i.e., people having more money). The conclusion was once people have enough money to meet basic needs, they are as happy as they are going to be.

A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, written by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Michigan, appears to cast doubt on Easterlin’s happiness-income paradox. The authors relied on data from Gallup polls which asked people throughout the world how much they earned and on which rung of the happiness ladder they were perched. While people in some countries appeared to be happier than people in other countries, everyone – no matter how much money they had – was happier when they had more money.

So, does more money translate into more happiness or doesn’t it?

It may all come down to your definition of happiness. After all, well-being is subjective as Princeton’s Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Daniel Kahneman, and its Professor of Economics and International Affairs, Angus Deaton, pointed out in a 2012 paper. The pair evaluated two measures of happiness: life evaluation (satisfaction with your place in the world) and emotional well-being (day-to-day happiness). The researchers found that life evaluation increases steadily with income, while day-to-day happiness maxes out an annual income of $75,000. They concluded “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”