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Money can’t buy happiness, but it can reduce sadness

Kelly Dilworth

The popular adage that money can’t buy happiness may be only half-true, according to a new study published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.

It’s true that having more money in the bank doesn’t make people feel happier on a day-to-day basis, according to the study. But it might make them less sad — especially knowing they have enough cash stashed away to cover a financial emergency.

Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy peace of mind

“Having more money provides more options for dealing with adversity,” write study authors Kostadin Kushlev, Elizabeth Dunn and Richard Lucas, in an early version of their report, titled “Higher Income Is Associated With Less Daily Sadness but not More Daily Happiness.” (Abstract free, subscription required for full text).

“Coming home to discover a leak in the roof, for example, may be an annoying, but easily resolved stressor for a well-off individual; in contrast, someone who could not afford to have the problem fixed right away might be plagued by this problem for months.”

Feeling as if they have less control over their life may be why some people with thinner wallets are more prone to feeling sad on a day-to-day basis, say the study authors. That’s true even when people are engaging in activities that have nothing to do with stress or money. For example, the authors found that lower income individuals consistently reported feeling sadder than higher income individuals during a wide range of activities, including eating, socializing and exercising.

The study authors also found stress over money and other life problems wasn’t the only thing making lower income people feel weighed down. Even when researchers controlled for stress levels, people with less money still tended to feel sadder than higher income individuals.

People with more money were significantly less likely to report feeling sad on a day-to-day basis. However, they didn’t get much of an emotional boost from their money, either.

Money’s downside
In fact, people with especially large amounts of money might actually experience less joy than their lower income counterparts, say the study authors — perhaps because they’re less impressed by what they have. For example, the authors point to previous research that’s found that people with higher incomes are less likely than people with lower incomes to savor positive experiences, especially if the experiences are small.

“The abundant positive life experiences that wealth provides may actually dampen the emotional benefits people reap from more mundane daily pleasures,” the study authors write.

For some people, money might give them more things to take pleasure in, but if they don’t know what it’s like to do without, they might not realize how good they really have it.

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