If You Try to Get Happy Through Money You’ll Probably Fail, Study Says

study says money won't make you happy if you care about it too much

“Don’t care too much about money. It’s not good for you.” – Science

Will money make you happy? The Beatles seemed to believe that it could not buy you love, but that didn’t keep them from wanting it. While it’s sensible to assume that you’ll be happier if you have the money to afford the things you need to survive, a new study suggests that tying your happiness to the accumulation of money could be a big mistake.

Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at University at Buffalo, led a study that asked participants to write about their financial problems. Park and her co-authors found that people who tied their sense of self-esteem to money experienced more stress and anxiety. Those people were also more likely to make wealth-based social comparisons, which, in essence, are pretty toxic.

Park explained some of the conclusions she drew from the study while talking to Science Daily:  

People don’t often think of the possible downsides of wrapping their identity and self-worth around financial pursuits, because our society values wealth as a model of how one should be in the world. It’s important to realize these costs because people are gravitating toward this domain as a source of self-esteem without realizing that it has these unintended consequences.

So what’s the solution?

Overall, it seems unrealistic to simply stop worrying about money. And financial instability (even for those who might have taken a financial literacy lesson or two) will challenge even the most devout optimist. But there’s a limit to how much money can improve your emotional well-being.

A previous study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton at Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing sought to answer the question of whether money can make you happy. They split happiness into two categories: emotional well-being and life evaluation. Emotional well-being is essentially the happiness that’s experienced moment to moment, while life evaluation is tied to the sort of pride people get when reflecting on their success.

The study found that emotional happiness grows with income, but levels out at $75,000—presumably when a person doesn’t have to worry about money too constantly. Meanwhile, life evaluation continues to grow with greater wealth, even beyond that.

However, given Park’s study, perhaps that “life evaluation” is on shaky ground. If possible, it seems like you should get the financial stability you need not to worry about it, and then find another source of meaning in your life.


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