Can You Purchase Happiness?

Let’s talk about the age-old question: does money buy happiness? Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get several different opinions on the topic. What’s certain is being able to afford the items one needs and wants to live a comfortable life can certainly aid in happiness – but to what extent?

The ability to comfortably provide for a family, pay unexpected bills with no worry, or buy nice items is granted to those who make enough money to do so. However, the direct correlation between how much money you make and how happy you are is fuzzier.

Income vs. Happiness Study
At the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Matthew Killingsworth set out to find some definitive answers to the question of whether money can buy happiness. Killingsworth studied over 30,000 participants and over a million data points to understand the correlation between someone’s income and happiness.

This study consisted of asking thousands of participants to rate their happiness several times throughout the day. This information was analyzed in tandem with everyone’s annual income. In a previous study on money and happiness, published in 2010, data showed people are incrementally happier the more money they make – until they reached out 75,000 dollars per year, at which point happiness seemed to plateau regardless of income.

However, the 2010 study did not track someone’s happiness throughout the day; instead, that study asked each participant to fill out one brief survey answering questions about their general satisfaction with their lives. So, in short, the previous study did not have as many data points as Killingsworth’s study does.

What Killingsworth’s new study showed is that people are happier the more money they make – and it doesn’t plateau at a salary of 75,000. This data feels more in line with what one might expect. However, Killingsworth points out that income may not be the only factor in why people who make more are happier.

As people get higher salaries, they also usually achieve better job titles. The higher up one is in a company, the more extra perks one might expect. For example, someone who holds a better position may enjoy more time off or get to work remotely more often, leading to a deeper satisfaction with life.

The correlation between money and happiness may also come down to one’s personal beliefs. In the study, Killingsworth asked participants if they saw money as indicative of success in life. Those who saw money as indicative of success were less happy than those who didn’t, regardless of income.

The studies available seem to point out that there is a tangible correlation between money and happiness, but many outside factors can influence this relationship. For example, someone making a ton of money but with a very poor work-life balance may be less happy than someone making a moderate salary with a great work-life balance.

Better-paying jobs typically have better benefits and perks, which often lead to a happier life, though the money doesn’t make a big difference here. Yet, overall, Killingsworth’s study shows clearly that the more money you make, the more satisfied you will be with your life.