Can Money Buy Happiness?

True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose -
Helen Keller

What's the use of happiness? It can't buy you money - Henny Youngman

This is an age old question that has been debated over dinner tables for centuries. First we need to define happiness. Miriam Webster got it right when they declared that the definition of happiness as good fortune is becoming obsolete. The modern definition includes both positive feelings (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities that are absorbing and engaging. Thanks in part to modern technology; happiness is no longer an abstract concept. Guillaume Duchenne, an early happiness researcher, looked at the quality of people's smiles and found that truly happy people had a smile that not only turned up the corners of their mouths, but also crinkled the skin around their eyes. Happiness can also be defined by our physiology. Researchers can identify happy people by their brain waves, their predominant hormones, and by the chemical make up of their cells.

New research conducted by Gallup World Poll, published in the July 2010 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, analyzed findings from a study of 136,000 people in 132 countries. Their findings concluded that life satisfaction rises with income, but income has small correlation with positive feelings and enjoying yourself. The pollsters asked people questions on a wide range of topics, and found that positive feelings are much more associated with factors such as whether they feel respected, have autonomy, and if their jobs are fulfilling.

Among the poll findings:

  • The United States had the highest income but ranked 16th in life satisfaction and 26th on positive feelings.
  • Denmark ranks high across categories. The country ranked No. 1 on life satisfaction, seventh on positive feelings, and fifth in income. Danes are happier mainly for two reasons -- social trust is very high, and corruption is considered low. Also, people in Denmark are more satisfied with “their economic safety net” than people in the U.S., Ed Diener, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Illinois and a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization.
  • Extremely impoverished countries in Africa generally scored low on various categories, but no nation came in lowest in all types of happiness.
  • Israel ranks high on life satisfaction (11th) but much lower in positive feelings.
  • Some nations such as Costa Rica and New Zealand are happier than their income levels would suggest. Costa Rica ranks 41st in income but fourth in positive feelings, while New Zealand ranks 22nd in incomes but first in positive feelings.
  • Self-esteem is more important to happiness in the U.S. than in “traditional” cultures.
  • In studies of poor people, researchers find that some are happy, in part because their needs are met.
  • Money makes a bigger difference to happiness among poor people, but it takes a lot more additional money to change the happiness of a person who is well-off, Diener says.

      So how do Americans raise their life satisfaction?

      1. Carve out a little time for yourself to gain a greater feeling of personal freedom to do what you really enjoy. The feeling of not having enough freedom to pursue quality time with our families, revitalizing solitary activities, or other things that would nurture us can leave us feeling stressed and unhappy. If you would like to increase your level of happiness and life satisfaction start by de-cluttering your schedule. Learn to delegate. Try assigning cleaning responsibilities to children, for example, this can lead to free time normally spent on housework and foster a sense of responsibility in your kids at the same time. Learn to say ‘no'. Before you take on any new responsibilities, carefully think about how these activities would impact your life, both in a positive way and negatively.

      2. Make the most of the money you have. Most people think if only they had more money they would be happier, however with increased means often come increased desires and so the net savings stays the same. A more effective solution would be to be smarter with the money you have: buy fewer things that you don't need, get out of debt (if you're in it), and spend your money on things that will truly make you happy and decrease your stress level, including your future.

      3. Make health a priority because just like love, it cannot be bought. Become mindful of what you are putting into your body. Get adequate amount of sleep. Exercise on a regular bases

      4. Reduce your level of stress. Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. A few tips on reducing stress: breathe through your diaphragm; reframe your experience; take a time-out; listen to relaxing music; and finally yoga and meditation.

      5. Find volunteer opportunities in your community. While you'll be helping others, you will encounter new people and experiences – now that's priceless.