Global poll: can money buy happiness?

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A new Gallup poll of more than 136,000 people from 132 countries around the world and a broad range of ethnic and economic backgrounds finds that, while people generally associated having more money with a greater satisfaction with their overall quality of life, when researchers focused on other measures of happiness — day to day feelings of joy and contentment — they found the link to wealth was far weaker.

The inquiry into global happiness was led by University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a long-time researcher of happiness, author of several books on well being and now a senior scientist with Gallup. The findings, which will be published in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggest that there are really two separate aspects of happiness: satisfaction with life, which is a reflection of “standard of living and ownership of conveniences,” and enjoyment of life, which is a reflection of things like “learning, autonomy, using one’s skills, respect, and the ability to count on others in an emergency.”

When analyzed this way, the researchers found that, across the globe, money did influence one form of happiness, but had very little impact on the other. As Diener told the Washington Post:

“Yes, money makes you happy — we see the effect of income on life satisfaction is very strong and virtually ubiquitous and universal around the world… But it makes you more satisfied than it makes you feel good. Positive feelings are less affected by money and more affected by the things people are doing day to day.”

For the poll, which the authors say included a representative sample of 96% of the world’s population, participants rated their overall satisfaction with life on a scale of 1-10, as well as explained their day-to-day positive and negative feelings by reflecting on whether they’d laughed or smiled or felt sad or angry, for example, in the previous day. The authors say that they were surprised to find such universal standards for happiness. As Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, told the Post:

“What makes this paper so important is the sample is so huge and covered the entire world… It’s really interesting that if you look at countries that are so different — from rural villagers to people living in a city like Stockholm — they are all about the same in terms of what makes people happy.”

For well being scholars, the findings represent a massive shift in the way that happiness is perceived — and they underscore the notion that cultivating contentment is partly about cash, but also about intangibles like respect and solid friendship. In other words, money still can’t buy you love.

Read more about the global happiness poll findings here.