Money Buys More Frequent, But Not More Intense Happiness
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Money Buys More Frequent, But Not More Intense Happiness

HIGH INCOME PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO CHOOSE ACTIVE WAYS TO SPEND LEISURE TIME, THUS EXPERIENCING MORE FREQUENT, BUT NOT NECESSARILY MORE INTENSE, BOUTS OF HAPPINESS, ACCORDING TO RESEARCH BY ADAM ERIC GREENBERG

Surveys across the world show that high-income individuals display more “life satisfaction” than their low-income counterparts. New research by Adam Eric Greenberg, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Bocconi, and scholars from Harvard Business School, IESE Business School, and University of Groningen observes that this is partly due to the fact that higher income allows for more frequent occasions in which happiness can be experienced, even if not necessarily of higher intensity.
 
Through a diary study capturing people’s happiness experiences over a 30-day time frame, Professor Greenberg and his colleagues explored how the lifestyle that higher income affords influences the kind of happiness people experience, and in turn, their life satisfaction. While both eating a sweet and hiking in the Alps may make someone happy, chances are that the former constitutes a frequent (though not intense) means of happiness and the latter an intense (though infrequent) one.
 
“In our study,” Professor Greenberg and his coauthor Jon Jachimowicz write in a post on the Character & Context blog of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, “we found that while higher income is reliably related to greater frequency of happiness, it is not related to the intensity of happiness. That is, our studies showed that more money translated into a greater number of instances in which our research participants experienced happiness, but not how happy they felt during each happy instance. This relationship between income and happiness frequency partially explained why people who have more money are more satisfied with their lives.”
 
Income, the study suggests, affects the way people spend their leisure time. Leisure activities can be categorized as either active (such as hobbies, volunteering, or exercising) or passive (such as watching TV or just relaxing). The study showed that higher-income individuals are more likely to engage in active leisure time activities compared to lower-income individuals. Active leisure activities, the authors explain, often require deeper pockets (hobbies can be costly), schedule predictability (low-paying jobs tend to be less predictable) and physical and mental energy (financial worries drain one’s energy). As active ways to spend one’s time are more likely to cause happiness, high-income individuals experience happiness more frequently, which in turn can translate in more life satisfaction.
 
Inequalities of income do not have to lead to inequality of happiness, write Professors Greenberg and Jachimowicz. Greater investments into community centers that allow access to low-income people, stronger labor protection laws able to allow workers more control over their schedules and more effective financial assistance could contribute to reduce the happiness penalty due to one’s income.
 
Jon M. Jachimowicz, Ruo Mo, Adam Eric Greenberg, Bertus F. Jeronimus, Ashley V. Whillans (In Press), “Income More Reliably Predicts Frequent Than Intense Happiness,” Social Psychological and Personality Science. DOI: 10.1177/1948550620972548.

by Ezio Renda
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