You've heard cliches about money's inability to buy happiness and seen caricatures of miserable rich people, but the truth may be, unsurprisingly, somewhere in between.

"Most people think of money as some kind of unmitigated good. But some recent research suggests that this may not actually be the case," said Paul Piff, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine.

Piff is lead author on new research published in the journal Emotion, which finds that rich people and poor people both experience plenty of happiness, but are likely to experience it in different ways. 

He and his colleagues surveyed 1,519 people, asking them for their household income and questions designed to determine how often they experience seven emotions tied to "the core of happiness:" amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love and pride.

Generally, richer people reported experiencing more positive emotions focused on themselves like contentment and pride, while poorer people experienced more outward directed emotions like compassion and love.

"These findings indicate that wealth is not unequivocally associated with happiness," said Piff. "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."

A simple explanation may be that wealth provides more self-sufficiency while bonding with others can be an important part of surviving life and coping for lower income people.

"Poverty heightens people's risks for a slew of negative life outcomes, including worsened health," Piff explains. "Wealth doesn't guarantee you happiness, but it may predispose you to experiencing different forms of it -- for example, whether you delight in yourself versus in your friends and relationships. These findings suggest that lower-income individuals have devised ways to cope, to find meaning, joy and happiness in their lives despite their relatively less favorable circumstances."

Other studies have found that levels of happiness generally go up as income rises, but not past a certain point (often cited as around a $75,000 annual income). Makes you wonder if the key to ultimate happiness is having enough to be self-sufficient, but not so much that you never have to lean on a friend now and then.

Published on: Dec 22, 2017