High income is not high happiness

If HR managers wish to justify why salary hikes were so low this year, they can now throw some Ivy League – endorsed psychobabble at their irate colleagues. A new research report written by two Princeton professors suggests that the link between higher income and happiness is highly exaggerated. In fact, it is mostly an illusion.

Economist Alan B Krueger and psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, collaborated with three other psychologists on the study. They found that people who were surveyed about their own happiness, and that of others with varying incomes, tended to overstate the impact of income on well-being. Although income is widely assumed to be a good measure of well-being, the researchers found that its role is less significant than believed, and that people with higher incomes do not necessarily spend their time in more enjoyable ways.

In fact, if one were to extend the analogy, relatively poorer countries like India seem to have a better sense of well-being than wealthy nations like the US. Krueger, a labor economist with an interest in psychology has been suggesting that economists add another currency to their measure of a nation’s wealth — the coin of life, for how one uses one’s time plays an important role in well being. Traditionally, a nation’s economic wealth is measured in terms of income and productivity. But if personal wealth does not necessarily lead to personal happiness, then how can GNP reflect a nation’s well-being?

The belief that high income is associated with good mood is wide-spread but mostly illusory. People with above average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be tenser and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities.

Pleasure and pain

This has been found by others in separate studies along the way. When psychologists Valerie Wilson asked people to note the emotion they most closely associated with the word money, her findings revealed that money is linked as much with pain as with pleasure. The emotions people volunteered were first worry / anxiety / concern / depression / stress / panic, and then pleasure / happiness / enjoyment.

Nothing in research findings suggests that money can buy happiness. Worries and unhappiness predominated. The most important things people found money giving them was freedom and independence, but not necessarily pleasure or fun. In fact, money seems to be an overwhelmingly serious thing for most people.

People exaggerate how much happiness is bought by an extra few thousand. The quality of relationships has a far bigger effect than quite large rises in salary. It’s much better advice, if you’re looking for happiness in life, to try to find the right husband or wife rather than trying to double your salary.