Paycheck May Be Key to Happiness

'Keeping up with the Joneses' explains the link, researchers say

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MONDAY, Aug. 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Money can buy happiness, researchers find -- but only if you have more money than others in your age group.

Even after controlling age, health, education and other correlates of happiness, "the higher the income of others in one's age group, the lower one's happiness," researcher Glenn Firebaugh, of Pennsylvania State University, said in a prepared statement.

"Families whose income earners are in jobs with flat income trajectories are likely to become less happy over time," he added. His team presented the findings Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia.

He and a colleague used data from the 1972-2002 U.S. General Social Survey to assess the age, total family income and happiness of people aged 20 to 64 years.

Overall, they found that physical health was the best single predictor of happiness, followed by income, education and marital status.

They also found that relative income (comparing one's income to the income of other people) has more impact on happiness than absolute income (the things that money can buy).

Firebaugh said the importance of relative income may lead people onto a self-indulgent treadmill, because incomes for most Americans continue to increase for most of their adult lives.

This may mean that in affluent countries, "rather than promoting overall happiness, continued income growth could promote an ongoing consumption race where individuals consume more and more just to maintain a constant level of happiness," Firebaugh said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has advice about maintaining good emotional health.

SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, August 14, 2005

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