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Wealthy people may be happier, but money can’t buy a sense of purpose

April 17, 2022

A team of researchers led by a Stanford professor investigated the correlation between financial resources, happiness, and the feeling of having a meaningful and purposeful life. What they found was that, in general, the greater the financial resources, the weaker the relationship of happiness with the feeling of living a meaningful life.

The team, led by Jennifer Aaker, professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, a scholar of the relationships between happiness, money, and feelings of meaning, analyzed data from multiple samples involving more than 500,000 people in 123 countries.

Aaker and her coauthors found that meaning is a stronger predictor of happiness for people with low incomes than those with greater financial resources. In other words, people with more money may be happier, but people with less money view happiness as tied to a sense of meaning — the belief that their life has purpose, value, and direction. And, remarkably, that connection is consistent across much of the world.

They propose this effect is due to more affluent individuals having greater access to other external sources of happiness, which allows them to rely less on the internally constructed sense of meaning to enjoy greater happiness.

To Stanford’s publishing, Aaker cautioned that these findings should not be used to minimize or dismiss the real disadvantages that low-income people and communities face. Instead, the paper provides additional context for future research and policymaking. “In addition to improving basic conditions for lower-income people, policies should not neglect the importance of meaning” in life, she said.

Source: Stanford Graduate School of Business