Happiness is a broad, deep, and complex concept. Its meaning and interpretation are unique to each individual, as are the components that make up a happy life. Even so, we all agree that the basis of happiness is the coverage of fundamental human rights and needs: access to food, housing, clothing, education, shelter, and human affection, to name a few. In one way or another, money plays a leading role in the development of people’s lives because its accessibility implies greater or lesser comforts; without money, people can hardly conceive happiness. Moreover, a series of studies over the past decade indicate that people with money are genuinely happier.
The science and other stuff to know
Many scientific efforts have been devoted in recent years to sociological research to answer the controversial question of whether money can buy happiness.
In 2010, a study published in PNAS by researchers Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton suggested that people earning up to $75,000 a year experienced greater well-being and happiness as their income increased. However, this study was merely exploratory since data was collected from surveys, and the institutions involved did not provide respondents with money.
Ten years later, another study found that individuals with incomes higher than $75,000 per year experience greater happiness when their income increases and comparatively higher indicators of happiness for those with lower average salaries. This study reproduced the methodology of the 2010 study, managing to expand and improve its results.
In July 2022, Ania Jaroszewicz and her colleagues at Harvard University designed an experiment in which they provided 5,000 low-income people in the United States with a sum between $500 and $2,000. Fifteen weeks after starting the experiment, the participants reported improvements in their psychological and financial well-being.
“There’s a lot of mixed research, and a lot depends on the details of how much you’re giving, who you’re giving it to, exactly what measurements you’re using, etc.,” Jaroszewicz told NBC News.
In November, a new article was published in PNAS in this sense. Lead author Ryan Dwyer explained that the experiment consisted of giving $10,000 provided by donor institutions to 200 families and individuals from different economic strata — from Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States — and meeting them repeatedly in the following months, along with a control group of 100 people who received no incentive.
The result indicated a clear trend: people who have less money experience greater feelings related to happiness when they receive an economic stimulus. Those with standard or high incomes also experience an increase in the perception of happiness, but more moderately than the first group.
The study of the effects of money on human psychology allows us to understand in greater detail the vicissitudes associated with the interpretation of happiness of modern individuals and also opens an interesting panorama for the study of economic models that impact people’s life and reality.
Jaroszewicz insists that the evaluation of happiness has many diverse aspects but that it is worth dedicating efforts to the specific study of the role of money in people’s lives. Once the economic factor is ruled out, people can delve into their existential discomforts.
The evidence indicates that a better redistribution of wealth would result in a happier, more satisfied, and psychologically healthy population. It is the task of all of us to turn that knowledge into a tangible reality.