Money can’t buy happiness — but it can protect from sadness, study finds
Suited man with money bag (Shutterstock)

Money can’t buy love. Money can’t buy happiness. But you might be able to buy your way out of sadness. Research has found that wealthier individuals feel less sadness during their daily activities but, surprisingly, no more happiness than their poorer counterparts.

The results “provide the first evidence that the emotional advantage of higher income may lie in buffering people against sadness rather than boosting happiness,” according to Kostadin Kushlev of the University of British Columbia and his colleagues, who conducted the study.

The researchers said it was a mistake to view happiness and sadness as mutually exclusive opposites. “Because happiness is not simply the absence of sadness, or vice versa, income may have a different relationship to each of those emotions,” they wrote.

The study was based on data from 12,291 participants in the 2010 wave of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), a national survey conducted by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that the measures the amount of time people spend on daily activities, such as work, childcare, volunteering, and socializing.

The survey also examined the participants’ household income and well-being, giving Kushlev and his colleagues a chance to see what relationship exists between the two.

The researchers found that wealthier individuals reported feeling less sad, but income appeared to have no effect on people’s daily happiness — even after controlling for variables such as age, sex, marital and employment status, education, ethnicity, presence of a child under 18 in the household, and stress levels.

Kushlev and his colleague also found that wealthier people spent more time exercising and engaging in recreational activities. But even this did not explain the anti-sadness effects of a higher income.

“Our analyses indicate that the associations of income to happiness and sadness have surprisingly little to do with how high- versus low-income individuals spend their time,” they wrote.

So why does having a higher income tend to make people less sad? The researchers think this relationship might be explained by people’s sense of control.

“This lack of evidence for a role of a wide range of probable explanations highlights the possibility that wealthier people feel less sad at least in part because wealth can make people feel more in control over negative events,” Kushlev and his colleague said.

“Because the available data in the ATUS did not allow us to empirically examine the probable role of perceived sense of control, however, future research should explicitly examine whether this proposed theoretical mechanism can explain the link between wealth and lower sadness.”

The study was published online January 9 in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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