Does money buy happiness?
It almost seems like an inevitable correlation, that the two are mutually inclusive. Of course it does! The richer you are, the less you have to worry about, the happier you can be. And there’s always been the old “I feel better crying in a Mercedes than in a cardboard box” argument. But is that really so?
Recent research about levels of happiness in China, the paragon of rising economic conditions, suggests that an increase in general wealth and income is not tied to a subsequent increase in happiness:
The average personal income in China has risen by five per cent a year since the mid 1990s. Yet according to Professor John Knight and Dr Sai Ding in their new book, this recent wealth does not equate with personal happiness. In China’s Remarkable Economic Growth, they find that the happiness of the Chinese people has not risen as expected. When people were asked to rate their happiness or satisfaction with life, the average happiness score was found to have fallen over time.
In other studies, too, it’s seen that it’s not always the countries with the highest GDP that are the happiest. These cool people at the happyplanetindex did a study on just that; they tied together factors such as life expectancy, carbon footprints, and life satisfaction to produce a comprehensive measure of “happiness.” What they found was fascinating:
[D]o countries with the fastest growing economies improve HPI scores the most? No. If anything, there is actually a negative correlation between GDP growth and change in HPI scores between 1990 and 2005. Contrast China, whose GDP per capita has almost tripled in the 15 years between 1990 and 2005, with Brazil, whose GDP per capita has risen at a far more leisurely rate, leading to a 17 per cent increase in HPI scores over 15 years. Meanwhile, however, life expectancy in Brazil has increased at twice the rate it has in China. Average life satisfaction, falling in China between 1990 and 2005, has risen slightly in Brazil.
We may even be moving in the wrong direction, they believe:
It appears that developed nations have become substantially less efficient in supporting well-being. In other words, whilst we have become more efficient at producing GDP, we may be further from sustainable well-being now than we were 45 years ago.
In the actual results of the study done by the happyplanetindex, the top 5 happiest countries in the world were Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala, and Vietnam, respectively. The highest ranking rich, developed western nation is the Netherlands - and it’s all the way down at number 43. The USA, supposedly one of the happiest countries because of its immeasurable wealth, is ranked 114. Not very happy, if you ask me. The study cites unmaterialistic values and aspirations, along with very tight-knit relationships with family and friends, as reasons for increased happiness in the cultures of lower-income countries.
So, I ask again: does money buy happiness?