For Happiness, Seek Family, Not Fortune
Study Shows Family
Relationships Bring Greater Happiness Than High Income
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
June 19, 2008 -- Money might buy
happiness for some, but for most people having strong family ties is a much
bigger predictor of contentment than income, a new study shows.
When researchers analyzed data
tracking married people over a decade, they found that while income did
contribute to happiness up to a point, the quality of family relationships
was much more important.
The study is one of the first to
examine the impact of economic and family changes over time.
"Much of the research on money
and happiness has shown a strong association up to the point where basic needs
are met, and that is what we found," researcher Rebecca J. North tells
WebMD. "But after this point income has a diminishing impact on
Money, Family, and Happiness
North and colleagues from the
University of Texas at Austin analyzed data from a study involving 274 married
adults living in the San Francisco Bay area who were followed from 1981 to
Each of the participants completed
surveys at four different time periods over the decade-long study designed to
measure changes in family income, family support, and happiness.
The surveys indicated that while
happiness was strongly tied to changes in the quality of family relationships
over time, it was much less strongly tied to changes in income.
"If you ask people about this, I
think most would say that family relationships are more important than family
income for happiness," North says. "But if you look at the way people
allocate their time, you might get a different idea."
The findings may also have
implications for how we measure our well-being at a national level, North and
colleagues write in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.
"Implicit in conventional policy
making is an assumption that a strong economy can be equated with a society's
well-being," they note. "Our findings underscore the importance of
additional policy indicators that can tap the well-being of individuals and
families at the psychosocial level to provide a more comprehensive
understanding of a nation's well-being."
Different Perspective on Happiness and
The study adds to a growing body of
happiness research, but it is far from the last word on the topic.
In a paper presented in April at the
Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., economists Betsey Stevenson, PhD,
and Justin Wolfers, PhD, concluded that income does seem to be directly related
to happiness, within societies and in personal terms.
Using polling data from both rich and
poor countries, the researchers found personal satisfaction to be highest among
people living in the richest countries. Within the countries, people with
higher incomes tended to be happier than those with less money.
In the U.S., for example, 90% of
people in households making at least $250,000 considered themselves "very
happy," compared to just 42% of people in households with incomes below
Different Perspective on Happiness and
"We looked at 35 years' worth of
data and found the relationship between income and happiness to be very
strong," Stevenson tells WebMD.
The findings seem to contradict the
idea that money is only related to happiness up to the point where basic needs
The research by Stevenson and Wolfers
shows that people living in households with annual incomes of $250,000 tended
to report higher levels of personal satisfaction than people living in
households with annual earnings of $120,000.
"We didn't look at the super-rich,
so we can't really say if Bill Gates is that much happier than the rest of
us," Stevenson says.
About 1% of American families have
annual incomes of $250,000 or more, while just 5% earn $120,000 or more.
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