Money Can't Buy Happiness
(June, 2011) -- Freedom and personal autonomy are more important to
people's well-being than money, according to a meta-analysis of data
from 63 countries published by the American Psychological Association.
a great deal of research has been devoted to the predictors of happiness
and life satisfaction around the world, researchers at the Victoria
University of Wellington in New Zealand wanted to know one thing:
What is more important for well-being, providing people with money
or providing them with choices and autonomy?
findings provide new insights into well-being at the societal level,"
they wrote in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
published by APA. "Providing individuals with more autonomy
appears to be important for reducing negative psychological symptoms,
relatively independent of wealth."
Ronald Fischer, PhD, and Diana Boer, PhD, looked at studies involving
three different psychological tests the General Health Questionnaire,
which measures four symptoms of distress (somatic symptoms, anxiety
and insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression); the Spielberger
State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, which tests how respondents feel at
a particular moment; and the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which tests
for emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of personal accomplishment.
Altogether, they examined a sample of 420,599 people from 63 countries
spanning nearly 40 years.
and Boer statistically combined the results of the different studies,
noting that their analysis was somewhat unusual in that the key variables
were collected from different sources and that no single study included
the two variables they were considering, i.e., wealth and individualism.
(Participants only answered questions regarding one of the dependent
variables of general health, anxiety or burnout.)
all three studies and four data sets, we observed a very consistent
and robust finding that societal values of individualism were the
best predictors of well-being," the authors wrote. "Furthermore,
if wealth was a significant predictor alone, this effect disappeared
when individualism was entered."
they found, "Money leads to autonomy but it does not add to well-being
research has shown that higher income, greater individualism, human
rights and social equality are all associated with higher well-being.
The effect of money on happiness has been shown to plateau
that is, once people reach the point of being able to meet their basic
needs, more money leads to marginal gains at best or even less well-being
as people worry about "keeping up with the Joneses." These
patterns were mostly confirmed in their findings.
more autonomy and freedom as indexed by societal level individualism
are associated with more well-being, but the road to well-being is
bumpy at times.
traditional and collectivistic societies, increases in individualism
can be associated with anxiety and lower well-being.
individualistic European countries, in contrast, greater individualism
leads to more well-being.
increases in well-being with higher individualism, however, leveled
off toward the extreme ends of individualism, indicating that too
much autonomy may not be beneficial
but the very strong overall
pattern was that individualism is associated with better well-being
overall," they wrote. This means that in some of the most individualistic
societies (such as the United States), the greater independence from
family and loved ones appears to go together with increased levels
of stress and ill-being."
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