Recent research confirms what many GRS readers already know: money doesn’t buy happiness. At the University of Rochester, psychology professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and graduate student Christopher Niemic spent two years tracking recent college graduates to determine the effects of various “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” goals.
According to the official press release:
Aspirations were identified as either “intrinsic” or “extrinsic” by asking participants how much they valued having “deep, enduring relationships” and “helping others improve their lives” (intrinsic goals) versus being “a wealthy person” and achieving “the look I’ve been after” (extrinsic goals). Respondents also reported the degree to which they had attained these goals. To track progress, the survey was administered twice, once a year after graduation and again 12 months later.
The more committed you are to a goal, the more likely you are to attain it. And while achieving most goals brings happiness, that’s not always the case if your motivations are extrinsic — if you’re pursuing money and power.
Researcher Edward Deci offers the following analysis of the project’s findings: “The evidence actually argues pretty strongly against this widely-held notion that if I’d just get rich and famous, I’d be so happy.”
Laura Rowley at Yahoo! Finance wrote about this research last week, and I think she brings up some good points. “The exclusive pursuit of intrinsic goals is fine for some in their 20s,” she writes, “but a bit idealistic for people who have mortgages to pay and (in my case) three college tuitions on the horizon. I love to write, but there have definitely been a few less-appealing assignments over the years in which money was the main attraction.”
And, of course, for those living in poverty — which generally does not include recent college graduates like those in this study — a lack of money can most certainly have a negative impact on personal well-being.
Still, this research confirms much of what I’ve read before. When we focus on monetary goals, we run the risk of becoming trapped on the “hedonic treadmill”, working harder and harder to make more and more money. This does not lead to happiness.
For more on this subject, check out:
- National Accounts of Well-Being
- Yahoo! Finance: Be careful what you wish for
- The Guardian: Money and happiness
- Get Rich Slowly: The psychology of happiness: 13 steps to a better life
Wealth and happiness are not mutually exclusive. But studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the pursuit of money is less likely to bring personal fulfillment than focusing on self-improvement and, especially, close relationships with others.
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