FRIDAY, June 22, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to popular belief, happiness in life has more to do with respect and influence than status or wealth, according to a new study.
Researchers said one possible reason money doesn't buy happiness is that people may get used to their higher income, but they never tire of being admired by others.
The study recently appeared online in Psychological Science.
"We got interested in this idea because there is abundant evidence that higher socioeconomic status -- higher income or wealth, higher education -- does not boost subjective well-being (or happiness) much at all. Yet at the same time, many theories suggest that higher status should boost happiness," said Cameron Anderson, a psychological scientist at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, in a journal news release.
The study's authors said the respect people receive from their peers, such as friends, neighbors or teammates, has more to do with happiness than money. "Having high standing in your local ladder leads to receiving more respect, having more influence, and being more integrated into the group's social fabric," Anderson said.
The researchers put their idea to the test in a series of studies. First, they surveyed 80 college students from 12 groups on campus. The amount of respect the students received from their peers, known as their sociometric status, was calculated based on peer ratings, self-reports and the number of leadership positions the students held. The researchers also took into account the students' household income and asked them about their social well-being. They found the admiration the students received from their peers predicted their social well-being. Their wealth or income did not.
When the researchers expanded the group of participants in another study, they saw similar results.
In a final study, the researchers followed graduate students in business school. They found the MBA students' social well-being was tied to changes in the admiration they felt from their peers before and after graduation. They noted respect had more to do with the student's well-being after graduation than how much money they made.
"I was surprised at how fluid these effects were -- if someone's standing in their local ladder went up or down, so did their happiness, even over the course of nine months," Anderson said.
"One of the reasons why money doesn't buy happiness is that people quickly adapt to the new level of income or wealth. Lottery winners, for example, are initially happy but then return to their original level of happiness quickly," he concluded. "It's possible that being respected, having influence and being socially integrated just never gets old."
The American Psychological Association has more about the origins of happiness.