BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — The old adage “money can’t buy happiness” has been debated for centuries. Now, a new study conducted at Binghamton University has a fresh take on the conversation surrounding money and happiness. According to researchers, when one views wealth and material possessions as measures of success, they report feeling greater levels of satisfaction in their lives. However, viewing money as a direct source of happiness doesn’t bring the same effect.
“People simply say ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ and just assume that materialism has a negative influence on overall well-being,” says Jenny Jiao, assistant professor of marketing at Binghamton University School of Management, in a release. “But it’s not that simple. There is a real difference between success materialism and happiness materialism.”
Jiao and her team surveyed more than 7,500 German adults for the study. First, the researchers determined which participants had a “happiness materialistic” or a “success materialistic” mindset. Then, each person was asked about their current life satisfaction, expected satisfaction in the future, and economic motivations.
After analyzing their findings, the research team found that focusing on achieving happiness through wealth and materialism can have a negative impact in two ways. First, this so-called “happiness materialistic” mindset often leads to people being dissatisfied and frustrated with their current standard of living, subsequently sparking a drop in overall life satisfaction. Additionally, this wealth-centric approach to happiness can cause a person to neglect other areas of their life such as family, friends, and physical or mental health.
On the other hand, a success materialistic mindset can lead to improved life satisfaction by boosting one’s economic motivations. As a person works harder to achieve more success, their standard of living improves, ultimately positively influencing their overall life satisfaction.
“We work so hard over the course of our lives. We want to make money and we want to have a better life, but what actually gives us satisfaction with life? Is it wealth and material possessions, or is it what those things are a sign of?” says Jiao.
The research team even cross-checked their findings with additional survey responses collected from other areas of the world.
As far as how to apply these findings to the average person, Jiao recommends that people should stay motivated in life by focusing their energy on future goals and aspirations.
“Your happiness should never rely on money alone, but money can be a tool to motivate you to achieve major milestones in your life, which can make you feel happier in the long run,” Jiao comments.
The study also makes it a point to note that it is important not to forget about the other things in life that can bring happiness, such as family and new experiences.
“Never lose sight of the other things that provide happiness that don’t necessarily have monetary value. These include family, friends, your health, continual learning and new experiences,” Jiao concludes.
The study is published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.