Does money buy happiness? Yes. More money even buys *more* happiness, a new study finds

That money can’t buy happiness is an age-old trope. Since the advent of modern public-opinion research, scholars have been trying to test it—with varying results.

One issue is that happiness may have different aspects. In a much-cited 2010 paper, psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton (both winners of the Nobel Prize in economics) looked at Gallup surveys and found that while Americans’ assessment of life satisfaction went up in lockstep with income, their emotional well-being plateaued after a household income of about $75,000 a year, around $90,000 in today’s dollars. Emotional well-being was measured by asking about feelings experienced the previous day, then classifying the responses by whether they exhibited positive affect or blue affect (worry and sadness) and stress.

Around when Kahneman and Deaton were doing this research, Harvard psychology doctoral student and former software product manager Matthew Killingsworth was developing a measurement tool, an iPhone app called Track Your Happiness that pings users at random intervals and asks about their activities and feelings, often using a sliding scale for answers. One early finding, published in 2010, was that wandering minds bring unhappiness.

Killingsworth, now a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has since used his app to measure the link between happiness and income. The conclusion, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that while the connection is stronger for life satisfaction than it is for experienced well-being, it doesn’t disappear for the latter after $75,000 or $90,000. Money keeps buying happiness, even for the affluent.

App Happy

Killingsworth drew on 1,725,994 experience-sampling reports from 33,391 employed U.S. adults using his app.

Above Average

U.S. median household income was $68,703 in 2019. Among the participants in Killingsworth’s survey, it was $85,000.

It May Not Work for Countries

Economist Richard Easterlin found in 1974 that higher per-capita national incomes didn’t bring higher reported happiness, a conclusion that’s been debated ever since.