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Can money buy happiness? Depends on how a person sees their social standing, wealth compared to others: Study

SINGAPORE — Money and resources can buy happiness, but only to a certain extent, a new study has found. This is because a person’s perception of his social standing compared to others is more important to increasing happiness than the actual amount of money he has.

Can money buy happiness?  Depends on how a person sees their social standing, wealth compared to others: Study

A study found that a person's perception of their wealth and social standing was a more important factor in determining happiness than how much money they actually had.

SINGAPORE — Money and resources can buy happiness, but only to a certain extent, a new study has found. This is because a person’s perception of his social standing compared to others is more important to increasing happiness than the actual amount of money he has.

This means that earning more money may not be enough to quell a person’s unhappiness, as long as he believes that he has less resources than those around him.

The findings were from a study done by researchers from Singapore and the United States, led by Assistant Professor of Psychology Jacinth Tan of Singapore Management University (SMU).

Other academics involved were: Associate Professor Michael Kraus from Yale University; Assoc Prof Nichelle Carpenter from Rutgers University and Professor Nancy Adler from University of California, San Francisco.

HOW THE STUDY WAS CONDUCTED

The researchers conducted a meta-analytic review of 357 studies that looked at how strongly money and resources such as educational attainment — measured both objectively and subjectively — are linked to happiness.

A meta-analytic review is a systematic review of multiple scientific studies on a given topic. This is done to assess the results of previous research.

A total of 2,352,095 participants were studied for the paper, making this the largest review on the subject to date.

They then used a 10-rung ladder scale where participants indicated their perceived social status so that the researchers could analyse the relationship between a person’s happiness and their perception of how their resources stack up in relation to those of others around them.

MAIN FINDINGS

The researchers found that when a person perceived himself to have more resources than others, it was very likely that he experienced greater happiness, regardless of his actual level of income and educational attainment.

They also found that this finding was stronger in countries such as Singapore, where high population density gives rise to greater competition for resources.

This suggests that even if a person attains greater income or resources, it does not necessarily mean that he will experience greater happiness as long as he still perceives his social status to be below those around him.

Asst Prof Tan said: “Even if people today are earning higher wages or attaining higher education levels than their parents or compared to 10 years ago, there is going to be a limited impact on their happiness if they are not doing… as well as or better than others at the present.”

WHY THIS MATTERS

In response to TODAY’s queries, Asst Prof Tan said the findings make the point that money and resources serve important psychological functions on top of basic survival, and this also affects a person’s overall wellbeing.

This has policy implications, she added. For example, when governments say that they will provide good jobs for its citizens, they should also consider whether the jobs are good enough to make people satisfied and happy.

In the context of the ongoing pandemic, Assoc Prof Kraus said that the relief measures and jobs that governments create during this period could have an added benefit of improving people’s happiness should lawmakers acknowledge the relationship between money and happiness.

“Overall, we should not discount how much economic conditions, even perceptions that come from these conditions, contribute to happiness, satisfaction, and psychological health,” he added.

Related topics

happiness NUS social status money

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