Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Money/Happiness Riddle Solved

What percentage of people believe survey results?

Personally, I am skeptical about the proliferation of research purporting to tell us what people think. To me, it is not so much an aid to strategy as a substitute for it. We need to be cautious not to read too much into data when we don’t understand the context or methodology, or we don’t take a hard look at who is paying for it!

But, once in a while, a survey throws up some interesting tidbits – and so it is with the mammoth Gallup World survey that was conducted in 2005-06 and partially released in early July in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Diener, Ng, Harter, Arora). Gallup conducted 136,000 phone interviews in 132 countries in a bold attempt to resolve the “does money buy happiness?” conundrum once and for all. Except that it didn’t – at least not with the clarity Gallup may have hoped for.

Instead, the findings pointed to a clear distinction between two kinds of happiness.

When assessed against long-term measures of happiness – “I am meeting my life goals and living a successful life” – there is a strong correlation with material wealth or lack thereof. People who are well-off financially tend to feel pleased with how their life is going; poorer people are generally dissatisfied.

But day to day happiness – “I am feeling happy today” – is weakly correlated with how rich or poor you are. In other words, whether or not you wake up happy tomorrow morning will be far more influenced by the quality of your relationships and your level of job satisfaction than the weight of your wallet.

Another way to look at these findings is that money buys theoretical happiness but not actual well-being. While it is good to feel satisfied about your healthy bank balance, it is surely just as important to actually live a happy life in the moment.

Gallup made a lot of phone calls to settle on a rather obvious conclusion: money does not buy happiness, at least not on its own. But this is not an either-or proposition. Material wealth brings abundant pleasure and satisfaction, but only when it comes hand in hand with those things that make life worthwhile to begin with: friendship, family, work, love and passion.


Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor said...

Yes, I'm continually amazed at the time, effort and money that is poured into these studies, the conclusions of which I'd thought were blindingly obvious!!

The millionaire is just as much at liberty to choose his disposition as the pauper. Grumpy or gleeful, grateful or greedy...it's all a matter of choice.

Live Life Happy!

Chris said...

Could not agree more Kevin, about being skeptical of proliferation of research purporting to tell us what people think. I remember so well, all my ad agency cohorts telling me they were so busy thinking about what people thought that they forgot they could change what they thought. Manipulation like that made me exit your industry to concentrate on games, video and online and that kind of stuff, where context methodology overtook what these guys were banging on about. And, sure enough, I always demanded (and still do) as much single source proof as possible and then I believe exactly the opposite of what the single source always tells me: That “it” is correct and that “it” is the context and that “I better believe it” because “it put all the money in”.

I’m interested in this new research called “the truth” and, oh, have you heard of this new site called Fibeo? Aparently, it’s a facebook video sharing and virtual reality hybrid that’s got zillions of subscribers because it, well, really reflects what people think. But, don’t take my word for it. Check out the research, but be careful you understand the data mate.

The funniest thing is your editors will not let you post this or will they? I’ll make sure not to link my name anywhere and – who knows – it might be interesting to see if your other bloggers can shed any light on the big Fib?

Chris Simon Bracket Boys

Jonathan Shapiro said...

Kevin is right to be suspicious of surveys and methodology is a huge part of their potency or problems.

For example the survey statement “I am meeting my life goals and living a successful life” says as much about our life goals as it does about true happiness. American culture (I can’t speak for others as I have spent 46 of my 47 years in the US) places a premium on career success. But how many times have we heard the old yarn about the successful business person that gets to the end of a career with great achievements, a pile of lucre, few friends and a dysfunctional family.

The studies have been done (Denier, Seligman, Ng, etc.) and seem very consistent. Happiness, defined as a deep seated feeling of contentment, comes from three things: strong relationships, stable to improving health and purpose. This last leg of the Happiness stool, purpose, requires some explanation. I place purpose on life’s journey at the intersection of passion and societal value. It is doing what you love for the benefit of something bigger than yourself. If one has the resources to invest his or her time and energies on these three things, happiness is a likely outcome. But the beauty here is that these three ingredients to a life full of contentment do not require great financial resource. They require time and courage. Time invested wisely in the people you love, taking care of yourself and doing what you love to do, and the courage to prioritize these over the next promotion or the bigger salary.

I would modify Kevin’s last sentence and say that “Material wealth [can bring] abundant pleasure and satisfaction, but only when it [is spent on] those things that make life worthwhile to begin with: friendship, family, work, love and passion.”

We should be careful about what we want…we just might get it.

Jonathan, CEO MediaWhiz

yo_ghurt said...

A client of mine used to claim that 42% of survey results are made up on the spot. This has carried me through many a stats-heavy presentation.

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