60-Second Mind

More Money Doesn't Mean More Happiness

Richard Easterlin wrote a paper back in the 1970s showing that increased income doesn't correlate with increased happiness. Last week he published an update on that paper. Christie Nicholson reports

As we approach another week holiday shopping a lot of us are disheartened by increasing commercialism at Christmas.   And again we ask: Can money buy happiness?


Well back in 1974 something called the Easterlin Paradox answered this question. It was economist Richard Easterlin who discovered that high incomes are correlated with lots of happiness. But over the long term there’s this point at which increased income doesn’t correlate with increased happiness. This is the paradox.


Just last week Easterlin published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science an update on his famous paper.


Researchers had looked at 37 countries, rich and poor, and found consistent results: over the long term—they took measurements over an average of 22 years—happiness ratings within a country do not increase with income. In Chile, China and South Korea per capita income has doubled is less than two decades yet all showed slight declines in happiness.


Easterlin notes, "We may need to focus policy more directly on urgent personal concerns relating to things such as health and family life, rather than on the mere escalation of material goods."


Food for thought as we swipe our credit card buying yet another iPod, Wii or Lite Brite.


—Christie Nicholson

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