Does Your Bank Account Make You Happy?



There are a number of adages imparting lessons about money, including the mother of all financial sayings: “Money can’t buy happiness”. The sentiment helps temper expectations and projects a proper set of personal priorities, but is it true?

Recent research returned interesting results about the different ways financial status impacts personalities and perceptions – some to be expected and others you might not see coming. At least one study’s findings seem to support the notion that while money may not actually be able to buy happiness, it does indeed shape the thoughts and behavior that make us each happy.

Distinct Differences

Each individual harbours personal idiosyncrasies, emerging from long-formed value structures, moderated by influences from inside, as well as countless factors having external impacts. In short, people are complex, so it can be hard to isolate cause-and-effect relationships. Where money is concerned, each person holds his or her beliefs, so generalizations don’t always hold-up. According to recent research, however, you can bank on some clear distinctions between rich people and those individuals with less money.

The study surveyed more than 1500 people, drawing conclusions about their individual happiness. When the survey responses were superimposed against the household income levels of each participant, it was possible to extrapolate findings about different income groups. To gather data, researchers asked survey participants how often they feel seven positive emotions. Amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love, and pride were the positive indicators used to denote participants’ feelings. Taking income into account, the responses pointed to differences in the way money affects perception.

People of limited means face a different set of challenges than members of more affluent classes. Even taking-on personal financing unfolds in different ways for people from disparate income classes. While various types of personal financing are available to borrowers from all walks of life, even without credit checks; lesser earners are often concerned with more immediate financial matters than wealthy individuals are. Focusing on these day to day financial struggles may leave lower income families with more worries than their wealthy counterparts.
Acknowledging some of the advantages of being well off, such as access to comprehensive health care and higher reported feelings of satisfaction, the study’s lead writer Dr. Paul Piff asked the question: Is having more money also associated with greater happiness?

Does Money Change People’s Focus?

Comparing survey responses to participants’ income levels, researchers found high income individuals more likely to trace happiness to personal accomplishments and status than fellow citizens of more modest means. Members of the latter group were found to derive a greater share of their overall happiness from positive relationships and personal connections. Some observers believe these sociological implications grow from a set of underlying conditions, shaping how money influences behavior.

Rich people are independent and the most likely members of society to be self-sufficient. A person of modest means, on the other hand, needs others’ help to navigate a threatening environment. It is thought this leads to deeper bonds between people of limited means. These relationships help explain why love and compassion play a greater role in their happiness, when compared to affluent individuals’ self-centred sources of positive feelings.

According to the study, pride and contentment were commonly associated with happiness among members of higher income classes. Positive emotions rising in poorer study participants tended to focus more on other individuals, as well as inspiring feelings of awe and beauty about the world around them.

Contrary to some other research attempting to define the negative effects of poverty, the new study showed that despite unfavourable conditions, members of lower income classes reach deep beyond their challenging circumstances to find happiness – even as wealthier people remain focused on status and personal achievements.

Finding happiness is a very personal pursuit, so it’s no surprise seeing differences in the way people view the elusive goal. A survey conducted recently shed light on some of the ways money interacts with happiness, pointing-out noted differences between the sources of positive emotions shared by respondents. As it turns out, rich people frequently derive happiness from personal achievements, pride, and contentment, while persons of limited means more often draw happy feelings from compassion and loving relationships.

Paul graduated in 2001 with a degree in Finance. Since then he has gone on to work for several of the UK's most well-known financial institutions.

An avid blogger and a huge football fan, Paul is here to guide you through the ins and outs of personal finance and perhaps save you some money in the process!

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