Woman jumps holding an umbrella next to a big yellow wall.
Experiences are worth way more than money on the happiness scale Photo: Pixabay.

Does money bring happiness? What does the world's longest happiness study say?

Harvard University studied happiness for 85 years and has all the answers.


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Last September, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz published The Good Life, a book based on the conclusions of the "Harvard Study of Adult Development," and answered to one of the most important questions of the modern era — does money equal happiness?

After reviewing data from the study that began in 1938 and followed three generations of people, both concluded that money does not equal happiness.

Money is not everything

Waldinger and Schulz acknowledged that money as a fundamental part of daily life. However, after reaching a certain income level, peoples' satisfaction decreases. What really makes them happy is something without monetary value. It's personal experiences and memories alongside others that bring us the most happiness.

“There is a well-known study that indicates that emotional well-being increases with income. However, as a person's income grows, their well-being increases at an increasingly slow rate. And, when their earnings exceed $75,000 a year, welfare stops increasing altogether, that is, it stagnates,” Schulz told Reuters.

Beyond covering basic needs and helping to maintain families, there is no correlation between wealth and happiness, since money should not be considered as the final objective, but rather as a mean to achieve and do what they are passionate about.

Schulz, who is also a professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, also said: “Money can't buy us happiness, but it is a tool that can give us security and a sense of control over life. After all, life revolves around our relationships with others. It's our relationships that keep us happy.”

Key findings

Some of the takeaways from the world's longest-running study of happiness include:

1. Career Success — According to the study, the sample of participants with more prestigious jobs and more money were not happier in their lives.

“The idea that we'll be satisfied by pursuing a money-oriented achievement — like a promotion or simply generating more income — pushes happiness far into the future and forever out of reach. The problem with that approach is that life passes you by,” Schulz warned.

The study also recommends valuing the small daily interactions with the people around them in the office, since they are very important to strengthen feelings of well-being.

2. Retirement as a Key Factor — Professional retirement represents a risk to self-esteem and life project, and the study recommends that mid-career professionals anticipate this change and start building a life outside the ‘office,’ participating in new activities or recovering old interests.

“The people who have done best in retirement are the ones who think about their social connections and rebuild their networks outside of work,” Schulz added.

The bad habit of accumulating

Value experiences more than accumulating things, the study recommends.

“Instead of buying a bigger house or a nicer car, if you use your money to share experiences with others, that money will bring you more happiness. That is the type of activities that allow us to connect,” emphasized Schulz.

The authors are also running mini-Harvard studies, which are done by occasionally checking in with the respondents (724 original participants, some of whom are still alive, and 1,300 offspring) for reflection and self-assessment.

They ask: “Are you happy? Are you where you want to be? Are there areas where you are falling short?”

“You can gain a lot if you examine yourself and find out if you are doing what is really important to you,” concluded Schulz.


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