It Seems Money Does Buy Happiness After All
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That money can’t buy happiness is an age-old trope. Since the advent of modern public-opinion research, scholars have been trying to test it—with varying results.
One issue is that happiness may have different aspects. In a much-cited 2010paper, psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton (bothwinners of the Nobel Prize in economics) looked at Gallup surveys and found that while Americans’ assessment of life satisfaction went up in lockstep with income, their emotional well-being plateaued after a household income of about $75,000 a year, around $90,000 in today’s dollars. Emotional well-being was measured by asking about feelings experienced the previous day, then classifying the responses by whether they exhibited positive affect or blue affect (worry and sadness) and stress.
Around when Kahneman and Deaton were doing this research, Harvard psychology doctoral student and former software product manager Matthew Killingsworth was developing a measurement tool, an iPhone app calledTrack Your Happiness that pings users at random intervals and asks about their activities and feelings, often using a sliding scale for answers. One early finding, published in 2010, was that wandering minds bringunhappiness.
Killingsworth, now a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has since used his app to measure the link between happiness and income. The conclusion, justpublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that while the connection is stronger for life satisfaction than it is for experienced well-being, it doesn’t disappear for the latter after $75,000 or $90,000. Money keeps buying happiness, even for the affluent.
Killingsworth drew on 1,725,994 experience-sampling reports from 33,391 employed U.S. adults using his app.
U.S. median household income was $68,703 in 2019. Among the participants in Killingsworth’s survey, it was $85,000.
It May Not Work for Countries
Economist Richard Easterlin found in 1974 that higher per-capita national incomes didn’t bring higher reported happiness, aconclusion that’s been debated ever since.
Fox is a columnist forBloomberg Opinion.
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