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Survey reveals money does buy happiness — to an extent

May 16, 2012

Not the most scientific chart, but it still proves a point.

Just as I was leaving The Gallup Organization to come work at Northeastern Junior College, Gallup was starting one of its newest, largest polls ever. Every single day of the year, Gallup was going to poll 1,000 random individuals throughout the country to ask them a wide variety of questions.

This poll, known internally at G1K, was going to measure how we as a society change over time. It also was going to measure health and wellness in the country. These were new parts to the classic political polls for which Gallup has been known.

We now are starting to see some of the results of this poll, and there is some surprising information. One of the first pieces this polling has done is to show that money can buy happiness.

This goes in the face of the classic line that money can’t buy happiness. But, using the information from the daily poll, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman was able to show that money actually can buy happiness.

After reviewing more than 450,000 surveys from 2008 through 2009, the data showed Kahneman that people’s happiness increased as people made more money — up to $75,000 a year.

This can show us a couple of things. First, it is worthwhile to find a career that can provide for you and your family. It appeared in the polling when people did not have to worry about the essentials such as food and shelter, it made them more satisfied.

But it didn’t stop there: People also had to have a level of income where they felt safe and could provide some protection to their family if disaster would befall them such as a major medical expense.

All this being said, any money made more than $75,000 did not increase happiness. There was no statistical data showing someone who made more than $2 million a year was more happy than someone who made $75,000 annually. So, money apparently does buy happiness, at least to a point.

Other economists chose to look at some of this information a little more in depth. One of the most notable was Michael Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. Norton used the same Gallup surveys and discovered that it wasn’t just the amount of money people made that brought about satisfaction, but also what they did with the money.

In almost every country in the world, Norton found that people who gave to charity were happier than those who didn’t. It is easy to conclude this the old adage “it is better to give than to receive” is true.

How can we use this information? First, it is important to look at your career. If you are in a career that will allow you to reach a level of income that eliminates the stress of paying your monthly bills, then you are on the right track.

If you are on a career path that will not allow you to get to that point, then you need to consider some options. Can you beat the statistics and find happiness at a lower income level, or should you consider starting a new career?

Second, if you are to the point where you make more than enough to meet your needs, are you spending your money wisely? If you are using your money to accumulate more stuff, then it probably isn’t going to bring you happiness. The ones who do receive happiness are the ones who give to others.

Are you finding a way to bless others with your wealth? If not, look at what really matters to you and make a difference with your money. Find a cause you believe in and can be active in and start giving your time, talents and treasure to this cause. Not only will it bring about higher satisfaction in your own life, but it can also bring happiness to many others.

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