Higher income associated with less sadness, but not more happiness

Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you less sadness – a new study has found that higher income doesn’t really correlate to happiness, but it correlates negatively with sadness.

The relationship between happiness and money is complicated and often hard to understand. Naturally, not having enough money live a decent life interferes with happiness and severely limits its potential, but given one’s ability to live a decent life, do more money bring more happiness? The increasing scientific evidence indicates that the answer is ‘no’ – but it does act as a cushion for sadness, according to psychologist Kostadin Kushlev and his team.

“Money may be a more effective tool for reducing sadness than enhancing happiness,” Kushlev concludes along with associates Elizabeth Dunn and Richard Lucas. “Although extensive previous research has explored the relationship between income and happiness, no large-scale research has ever examined the relationship between income and sadness. We show that higher income is associated with experiencing less daily sadness, but has no bearing on daily happiness.”

In a way, this seems very logical. A broken pair of shoes might be just a minor inconvenience to most people, but for those with low incomes, it can be quite a tragedy. But being sad and having many problems doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the things and the people you love. But doesn’t the lack of sadness imply happiness, or the other way around?

I think not. I think we should also define a neutral state, one in which you are neither happy nor sad. For example – when you’re at work, doing something which is not unpleasant, but you don’t necessarily like it either; it’s simply a neutral state.

The study analyzed data from 12,291 Americans and also found that happiness and sadness are not necessarily two sides of the same coin, concluding:

“Happiness and sadness are distinct emotional states, rather than diametric opposites.”

Aside from its main conclusion, the study also shows that we don’t really understand what happiness is. Kushlev said:

“I hope we can improve our understanding about what makes people happier and educate people to make better choices in their lives,” he said.

Kushlev himself said that his hobbies make him happy: swimming, hiking, travelling, dancing and singing.

Journal Reference: Kostadin Kushlev, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Richard E. Lucas. Higher Income Is Associated With Less Daily Sadness but not More Daily Happiness. Published online before print January 9, 2015, doi: 10.1177/1948550614568161


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