The Way We Experience Happiness May Depend on Income Level

There is truth in the saying “you can’t buy happiness,” yet the sought-after feeling can have several different meanings. Happiness can manifest itself in interpersonal ways, spiritual ways, self-focused ways and so much more. Research focused on the psychology of this emotion has discovered that how much money someone makes doesn’t necessarily control if someone feels happy or not, but it can determine the type of happiness they experience.

A recent study published in the journal Emotion by the American Psychological Association detailed some very interesting findings. Using a nationally representative survey researchers gathered data on how people experience seven specific emotions that all come together to describe the experience of happiness: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love and pride. They found that, depending on income level, respondents tended to identify more with certain emotions over others.

Those bringing home a higher paycheck more often reported feelings that tend to focus on the self, such as amusement, contentment and pride. This is thought to be partly because wealthier individuals tend to value independence and self-sufficiency. Respondents whose incomes were lower tended to report more feelings of love, compassion and being in awe of the beauty around them—all emotions that tend to focus on others. This finding is thought to occur because forming bonds with other people is a way to face some of the harsh realities of poverty.

“These findings indicate that wealth is not unequivocally associated with happiness,” lead author Paul Piff, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine told Science Daily. “What seems to be the case is that your wealth predisposes you to different kinds of happiness. While wealthier individuals may find greater positivity in their accomplishments, status and individual achievements, less wealthy individuals seem to find more positivity and happiness in their relationships, their ability to care for and connect with others.”

How each of us define happiness is unique and depends on several factors. These latest findings, however, could help us begin to resolve some of the divides that seem to exist between people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Because a wealthy person’s idea of happiness tends to be different than someone who is poor, that person’s concept of what people, in general, should be striving toward may be an erroneous assumption.

There is a lesson here: the next time we experience a disconnect in understanding someone else, we should take the time to define how we experience happiness and ask the other person how they define the feeling. Instead of having parallel conversations, we can come closer to having a conversation with each other.


Copyright © 2015 Inc. All rights reserved.

Comments are closed.