People Choose Higher-Paying Jobs Over Happiness

money over happinessJoseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist of the World Bank, began chiding world leaders a couple years ago to give up wealth as the central metric of progress. GDP couldn't capture all the complexities of modern society, he said. A "comprehensive measure of well-being" would be better.

But what if he was wrong? New research shows that people just might prefer money to happiness, reports the Daily Mail.

Economists at Cornell University offered more than 2,500 people a choice between a job that paid £50,000 ($81,425) with "reasonable hours," allowing them to have a full night's sleep, and a more heavy-duty position with "unusual hours," permitting them just six hours of shut-eye, but compensation to the tune of £90,000 ($146,555).

The majority of respondents chose the well-paid job with the crummy hours, even though they acknowledged that it would make them less happy.

Common wisdom says that more money brings higher satisfaction. It also says: more money, more problems. But the first point tends to stick more, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. In the World Values Survey's happiness index, rich Scandinavia ranks high, but so does decidedly less-rich Latin America.

Money is an imperfect proxy for well-being and, in fact, often dampens the spirit. When a country transitions from general subsistence-level poverty to middle-income status, the happiness of the population leaps, the WVS researchers found. But any increase above that leads to hardly any change in the level of well-being. While wealth might perk a person up, it usually comes with a greater desire for material goods, what the WVS researchers call a "happiness suppressant."

Yet people still pick the cash.

Because they want the status of the higher-paid job, the Cornell researchers found, and the greater sense of purpose that comes with doing more generously compensated work. And in the more selfless of the responses, people said that the larger paycheck would make their families happier.

So while the better-paid job might lessen the well-being of that sleep-deprived individual, it maximizes the happiness of the family as a whole.

These results challenge the increasingly widespread logic that personal happiness is the individual's ultimate goal, a logic propagated by the "happiness industry" through life coaches, literature ("The Happiness Advantage," "The Art of Happiness," "The Happiness Hypothesis," "Happiness: a Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skills"), and mood-altering chemicals (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro).

The implications aren't just philosophical and psychological, but political too. "Our research suggests that if governments choose to design policies to maximize happiness measured in their surveys, they might impose policies that people would not want for themselves," Alex Rees-Jones, one of the PhD students who authored the study, told the Daily Telegraph.

Sure enough, several countries, heeding Stiglitz's words, are measuring their populations' subjective satisfaction to better understand and guide development.

We are trapped in a "cult of figures," said French president Nicolas Sarkozy, when he announced a Gross National Happiness measure.

Well-being, David Cameron said, when he became the British conservative leader in 2005, is one of the "central political issues of our time." "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money," he said, "and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB -- general well-being."

Certainly, there's more to life than money. But despite the counsel of certain economists and politicians, there also seems to be a lot more to life than happiness.

Next: Is Job Happiness a Fairytale?

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I prefer happiness myself.

August 28 2011 at 10:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been very poor and very comfortable. Stress comes with being poor and it is never ending. Comfortable is far less stressful and happiness is a bit easier too. Happiness comes with appreciation. Not living with constant stress can be much appreciated too. Comfortable also gives you a bit more time to enjoy the little things. It does not always mean "buying" or "out-doing" someone else for status. But it does mean that you do not have to work quite so hard or so many hours just to make ends meet. Happiness is a much easier state of mind, when you have enough to survive and not worry about the next emergency that might drain you further.

August 28 2011 at 9:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What happened to the post I just made ... ?

August 28 2011 at 8:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wonder if Warren B will help the victims of Hurricaine Irene

August 28 2011 at 8:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

If you are a jerk with money then you are still a jerk! and we all know how we feel about jerks

August 28 2011 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This not my philosphy but I heard from a Dali Lama that true love brings happiness. A babe with a hot bod and a heart of gold can make things a lot better. However the hot babe usually requires alot of money
Therefore, you need some money; the more the merrier

August 28 2011 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your account has been banned from Huffington Post.

August 28 2011 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Our system is called "capitalism" ... and that says it all ... it values capital ... money ... and the power it brings to the exclusion of all else. "Socialism" values the social fabric which is why socialist countries enjoy better health, education, a less stresssful way of life ... a more well rounded existence ... a generally higher standard of living. It's not rocket science, folks. Occasionally, however ... bad economic times (i. e., right now) and the trashing of the lives and hopes of millions of Americans (i. e., right now) make this a very teachable moment ... to all but Teapublicans and the rabid, religious right. ... carry on ...

August 28 2011 at 8:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The "extra" money they think they would earn would inevitably go towards stress management.

August 28 2011 at 8:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Money does not buy happiness, but it does buy a certain amount of comfort and security. People with money tend not to worry over how they are going to make the next house or rent payment, or the electric bill, etc. I would like several million dollars in the bank right now. I don't want anything more than a house paid in full, or my car paid in full. I don't need any more material things, except maybe a nice vacation. What I want the money for is "to write the check" whenever I need to go to the doctor, or replace something that can no longer be repaired. I want to be able to go to work and come home without worrying if I spent too much on groceries that day, or if I can put more fuel in my vehicle, etc. Most people have seen the aftermath of lost jobs, illnesses, etc., where just having enough money would have alleviated a lot of the stress associated with those things. You still have stress, but worrying about how to pay for it is not one of them.

August 28 2011 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to klasakt's comment
RYAN got everything right.Ive been on both sides of the issue,pennyless,broke as hell and wondered how Id pay the power bill...been behind on the house too.Im talking 20 years ago but Ive been there.NOW,lets say Im not broke and the feeling of never worrying about ANY bill I have is a darn good feeling.There are so many thoughts about this subject,I know Ive told myself I must be dumb because Im not a can they be so rich other there and worry free when I have to be careful about what I buy to even eat.The only thing I can say is stay the coarse but look for things that you heard made someone else lots of money,if they can do it you can too.

August 28 2011 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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