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Money can buy happiness?

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The question mark is mine. The Economist’s headline on May 2nd 2013 was clean, no question mark in it. «A new study examines the relationship between income and well-being», it said, refuting the Easterlin paradox, named for economist Richard Easterlin, who, like so many philosphers, essayists and economists  before him, concluded that «higher incomes do not necessarily make people happier».

Since Mr Easterlin first made his conjecture in 1974, economists’ views have evolved: money matters, studies suggest, but only up to a point. Become rich enough, and a bigger paycheque no longer leads to more happiness.

Yet a new NBER working paper by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, both of the University of Michigan, casts doubt on this chestnut. They use a trove of data generated by Gallup, a polling firm, from its World Poll. Gallup asked respondents around the world to imagine a «satisfaction ladder» in which the top step represents a respondent’s best possible life.

Those being polled are then asked where on the ladder they stand (from zero to a maximum of 10), and how much they earn. Though some countries seem happier than others, people everywhere report more satisfaction as they grow richer.

Even more striking, the relationship between income and happiness hardly changes as incomes rise. Moving from rich to richer seems to raise happiness just as much as moving from poor to less poor. One never really grows tired of earning more.


Although The Economist doesn’t mention it, its information follows closely the post published by Brookings on April 29th under the title  You Can Never Have Too Much Money, New Research Shows.

New research by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers finds a robust link between income and well-being among both the poor and the rich. This finding holds true when making cross-national comparisons between rich and poor countries, and when making comparisons between rich and poor people within a country.

Can we make ourselves happier?, asked Pascale Harter in the BBC on June 29, 2013.

According to studies from all over the globe collated by the World Happiness Database in Rotterdam, we can. But the path to happiness may not be where we are looking for it.

Professor Ruut Veenhoven, Director of the Database and Emeritus professor of social conditions for human happiness at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, says his own study found a slight negative correlation between the number of times people in a study spontaneously mentioned «goals» and their happiness.

«Though it is generally assumed that you need goals to lead a happy life, evidence is mixed. The reason seems to be that unhappy people are more aware of their goals, because they seek to change their life for the better.»

But perhaps the most intriguing finding from an array of studies on file at the database is the lack of correlation between seeing meaning in life and being happy…  MORE

Top 10 happiest countries

Countries ranked in order of «satisfaction with life», according to the World Database of Happiness:

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Norway
  6. Finland
  7. Mexico
  8. Sweden
  9. Canada
  10. Panama

Summer Double Issue. July 8-July 15, 2013

In a summer special issue, in July 2013, TIME published five reports on the subject of happiness in the US and in the rest of the world:

The Happiness of Pursuit (Part 1)

Americans are free to pursue happiness, but there’s no guarantee we’ll achieve it. The secret is knowing how — and where — to look… Read more

Got Joy? (Part 2)

The time poll asked Americans what makes them happy. Here’s how they answered… Read more

World Database of Happiness

Subjective Well-Being and Income: Is There Any Evidence of Satiation? By Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers.

¿Puede el dinero comprar la felicidad? By Robert E. Lane

El dinero nos deja satisfechos, pero no felices  By Ángel Díaz 

Felicidad Interior Bruta: ¿El dinero da la felicidad? Wharton School

The Pursuit of Happiness: Time, Money and Social Connection By Cassie Mogilner

Por supuesto que sí: cuanto más dinero tenemos, más felices somos  By  Héctor G. Barnés


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