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Can money buy happiness?

Sonja Lyubomirsky: The truth is that money does make us happy. But our misunderstanding, as one happiness researcher eloquently explains, is that "we think money will bring lots of happiness for a long time, and actually it brings a little happiness for a short time." Being wealthy has its advantages, of course. But it doesn't make us dramatically happier, she explains. The richest Americans, those earning more than ten million dollars annually, report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the office staffs and blue-collar workers they employ. The reason may be that wealthy people are preoccupied with staying wealthy. Meanwhile, in our effortful pursuit of such dead ends to pleasure, we end up ignoring other, more effective routes to well being.

Ed Diener: Yes, money buys happiness, but there are important exceptions. Money is more than a fixed amount of legal tender. Wealth is, in part, also about your desires. Being satisfied with your paycheck, just like being satisfied with your life, is about your point of view. Studies have shown that an individual's income is a poor predictor of their happiness. Some people with a lot of money could not meet their desires, and others with little money were able to do so. Materialistic people, that is, are seldom the happiest people because they want too much. It is generally good for your happiness to have money, but toxic to your happiness to want money too much.

Bruno Frey: People make a mistake when it comes to predicting how much money will make them happy. Consider the individual who chooses a job with more income but a longer commute. If you get an increase in income, two-thirds to three-quarters of the happiness from that increase wears out in one year, because you get accustomed to a higher income level very quickly. But you never get used to a long commute.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi: Material well-being is attractive and relatively easy to attain, but there's a point of diminishing returns. Kids that value material goals beyond a certain point end up not having many friends. They become selfish and more depressed. You can't pile up more things and expect an increase in well-being. The same thing holds true for society in general. There is only a very weak relationship between finances and satisfaction with life; billionaires in America are only infinitesimally happier than those with average incomes. One conclusion that the findings seem to justify is that beyond the threshold of poverty, additional resources do not appreciably improve the chances of being happy.

Published with permission of the National Geographic Society from the book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Copyright© 2010 Dan Buettner. Available wherever books are sold.

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