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Can Money Buy Happiness?

Posted: July 6, 2010

A worldwide survey of more than 136,000 people in 132 countries included questions about happiness and income, and the results reveal that although life satisfaction usually rises with income, positive feelings don't necessarily follow, researchers report.

The findings, from an analysis of data gathered in the first Gallup World Poll, appear this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"The public always wonders: Does money make you happy?" said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization. "This study shows that it all depends on how you define happiness, because if you look at life satisfaction, how you evaluate your life as a whole, you see a pretty strong correlation around the world between income and happiness," he said. "On the other hand, it's pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself."

The Gallup World Poll conducted surveys on a wide range of subjects in a representative sample of people from 132 countries from 2005 to 2006. The poll used telephone surveys in more affluent areas, and door-to-door interviews in rural or less-developed regions. The countries surveyed represent about 96% of the world's population, the researchers report, and reflect the diversity of cultural, economic and political realities around the globe.

This "first representative sample of planet earth," the authors wrote, "was used to explore the reasons why happiness is associated with higher income." The researchers were able to look at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living, whether their basic needs for food and shelter were met, what kinds of conveniences they owned and whether they felt their psychological needs were satisfied.