But that doesn’t mean wealth is irrelevant to happiness, does it? We all grasp the corrosive anxieties of poverty. Fretting over the rent, the next heating bill, a call from the collection agency: That’s a recipe for misery. Money matters, and we know it, which is why we give to those without enough.
It’s tempting to think that there’s is a point at which money no longer matters, but according to the latest research on happiness, there isn’t. Wealthier people tend to be happier. According to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, Americans making over $100,000 a year were more than twice as a likely to say they are “very happy” than those making under $30,000.
And wealthier countries tend to be happier than less wealthy ones. Economist Angus Deaton has found evidence from a new Gallup World Poll that a doubling of per capita income does about as much for the happiness of a relatively rich country as it does for a relatively poor one.
Now, if you’re forced to choose between a rewarding job and a lot of money, choose the rewarding job. Happiness research doesn’t say you should aim to be wealthier. What it says is that, if you hold everything else constant — the richness of your relationships, the joy of your work — a little more money tends to makes us feel a little bit better.
But the corollary for politics is that economic growth and public happiness tend to move in the same direction. The political choice to put a brake on growth is not the social equivalent of choosing a lower‐paying, but more meaningful job. It’s the choice to make tens of millions of people slightly less happy than they otherwise might have been.
Maybe something is worth that cost. I just can’t imagine what it might be.
Will Wilkinson discusses money and happiness on Marketplace. (March 12, 2008) [MP3]