A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. - Jane Austen
Anybody who thinks money will make you happy hasn't got money. - David Geffen
We probably all know a kid from a super-wealthy family, who’s been given every opportunity and advantage, yet is mystifyingly apathetic, unambitious, and maybe even unhappy. What gives?
Back in 1921, Lewis Terman (of the Stanford-Binet IQ Test) started a study of 1500 local elementary school kids. For the next eight decades, he, followed by psychologists Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin, tracked these subjects as they grew into adulthood and beyond. The results of the survey, “The Longevity Project,” revealed some clear life-motifs that lead to a long, healthy, and happy life.
While most people are familiar with findings that having a strong social network leads to longer life, most of us assume that’s a result of getting a hand up or a sympathetic ear when we hit rough patches in life. It turns out it’s just the opposite: the health benefits are actually a function of what you do for others. Those who give – whether financially, their shoulder to cry on, or their total attention to you - live the longest.
An interesting result emerged from subjects’ reporting of job satisfaction. While many people dream of the high-paying cushy job with a corner-office and personal secretary, it turns out that longevity is more highly correlated with real-life jobs: ones that involve stress, responsibility, and after-hours. Perhaps emotional muscles are like physical ones, and need a work-out to stay healthy. Most likely, the positive messages we get from our successful negotiation of these challenges makes us feel competent and achieving.
Lots of other studies have definitively shown that money does not buy happiness. This is not a promotional for genteel poverty – it’s certainly no picnic, and an income that's doesn’t adequately cover the basics, exacerbates existing problems . But it seems pretty clear that once a family has enough money for shelter, food, clothing, recreation, and some measure of control over life (about $75,000 for an average American family. Federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,000), increasing their income does not result in a corresponding increase in happiness. Psychologist David Lykken: “People who go to work in their overalls and on the bus are just as happy, on the average, as those in suits who drive to work in their own Mercedes.” India, Australia, Great Britain, Japan, have all found similar results. The traits that mark happy lives are connection, hope, faith, and “flow” in work and play. There is some money that contributes to happiness: the money we spend on experiences, connecting with others, or small daily pleasures. These all being more lasting happiness than a splurge on a big-ticket item.
Of course, there’s always “Jewish gelt.” Looking at my son and daughter, my Bubbie would say, “You’re not a millionaire, you’re a billionaire!”
For more: Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Chabad.dot.org