There is a lot of new research on happiness and money with some surprising results. While Americans have become more affluent, their happiness levels have not really increased. In a series of studies by the University of Chicago, the average U.S. Family has become 60% richer in the last thirty years, but they are not significantly happier. In 1960, approximately 42% of Americans surveyed pronounced themselves "very happy."

A similar poll in 1990, found that 43% were "very happy." What seems to matter most for your sense of well-being and your happiness level is how you stack up against your neighbors. People tend to use this yardstick of comparison to evaluate their money and circumstances. Even a millionaire will feel miserable in the company of billionaires.

This is the problem with money and consumption. Each new luxury quickly becomes a necessity and then an even newer luxury must be identified. We become convinced that we need the flat screen TV, granite counter tops, and heated seats in the new car. From early on, we learn a pattern of consumption that is focused on "extrinsic values," of obtaining more to make us happy. There is increasing evidence, however, that the pursuit of affluence has damaging psychological effects, including severe depression and anxiety. In a series of case studies dating to 1993, Ryan and Kasser examined the effects of pursuing money and material goods. Focusing excessively on obtaining wealth was found to create a lower sense of well-being and self-esteem. Everyone who sought affluence as a goal had a lower score for happiness.

There was one point that all research on happiness seemed to agree; happy people do better than unhappy people in most realms of life; they have better social relationships, do more volunteer work, have better health, and make more money. So money may not make you happier, but being happy may make you more money.

Barb Bartlein is The People Pro. A relationship expert, she is the author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway? Overcoming the Myths That Hinder a Happy Marriage. For more marriage tips, please visit: Marriage Tips. To get Barb's Free e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.


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