Do The Rich Really Live Happier Lives

Updated October 19, 2020

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Do The Rich Really Live Happier Lives essay

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Every week 70% of Britain’s adult population rush out to buy a lottery ticket, that’s a staggering 45 million people who dream of having their lives changed by an influx of wealth. All of us have dreamt about winning the jackpot on the lottery at least once in our lives.

Mental health

Someone is always richer than you

It is often assumed that happiness increases with monetary gains, however this is only to a certain extent, an American journal; ‘Nature Human Behaviour’ carried out a study that showed once a household income reaches £76,000 annually, there is evidence of ‘reduced life satisfaction and a lower level of well-being.’2 Makes you wonder if the key to ultimate happiness is having enough to be self-sufficient, but not so much that you never have to lean on a friend now and then.

Young people who are brought up from wealthier families have a higher chance of having mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety, but also an increased risk of drug abuse than those who are brought up in poorer households.

The Hedonic Treadmill is ‘the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.’7

This theory explains that the rich are often no happier than the poor,
An interview-based study titled “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?” that was published in 1978 by Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman set out to determine how people adapted to happiness. The researchers interviewed three groups of people: lottery winners, paralyzed accident victims and a control group.
Based on their findings, the newly-rich lottery winners were shown to have similar levels of happiness before and after winning. This indicated that there wasn’t a consistent relationship between increased happiness and personal financial gains, and that the baseline level of happiness for the lottery winners over time would remain nearly the same.

According to the study, “Although lottery winners felt very good about winning the lottery, they took less pleasure than controls [group] in a variety of ordinary events and were not in general happier than [the control group]. These results can be derived from an adaptation level analysis of the effects of a single extremely positive event.”

The study also showed that the group of paralyzed accident victims expected their level of happiness to increase to the baseline over time, despite an initial decrease in happiness from their negative life event. The main takeaway from the hedonic treadmill is that, while stable finances are a good thing, one should not focus on increasing wealth as a means to raise their overall level of happiness.

Paul Piff PhD, of the University of California Piff is lead author on new research published in the journal Emotion, Both rich and poor people will experience lots happiness in their lives, but it is highly likely that it won’t be experienced the same both social groups.

He and his colleagues surveyed 1,519 people, asking them for their household income and questions designed to determine how often they experience seven emotions tied to “the core of happiness:” amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love and pride.

Richer individuals were found ‘experiencing more positive emotions focused on the themselves e.g. contentment and pride’4 whereas the results showed that people on the poorer end of the scale ‘experienced more outward emotions e.g. compassion and love’4.

“These findings indicate that wealth is not unequivocally associated with happiness,” said Piff. “While wealthier individuals may find greater positivity in their accomplishments, status and individual achievements, less wealthy individuals seem to find more positivity and happiness in their relationships, their ability to care for and connect with others.”
A simple explanation may be that wealth provides more self-sufficiency while bonding with others can be an important part of surviving life and coping for lower income people.

“Poverty heightens people’s risks for a slew of negative life outcomes, including worsened health,” Piff explains. “Wealth doesn’t guarantee you happiness, but it may predispose you to experiencing different forms of it — for example, whether you delight in yourself versus in your friends and relationships. These findings suggest that lower-income individuals have devised ways to cope, to find meaning, joy and happiness in their lives despite their relatively less favourable circumstances.”

The Channel 5 programme ‘Rich House, Poor House’ explores Britain’s extreme wealth divide and brings light on the big question of does money really buy happiness. In order to see what life is like on the other side, a family that ranks in the top ten per cent of Britain’s wealthiest households trades homes, lifestyles and budgets with a family from the bottom ten per cent. As the experiment progresses the families follow each other’s typical spending habits and extra-curricular activities to learn if the grass really is greener.

Financial freedom allows people to have control over their own lives with the ability to spend money on things that are going to aid in their own personal joy due to an increased disposable income. Contrary to popular beliefs money can buy happiness, too large a percentage of the population only think that material goods will bring them happiness, however this pleasure is usually temporary due to the Hedonic Treadmill theory.

The best way to be happy by spending money is by spending it on experiences or outings; ‘it’s been proven that experiences make us happier than material possessions’.5 San Francisco State University have carried out research verifying this, when ‘people spent money on experiences rather than material items were happier and felt the money was better spent’.6 The happiness that comes with material goods is short lived whereas the happiness that that comes with the making of new memories can last a lifetime.
This however proves that both the rich and poor can have equally happy lives.

Financial freedom

Monetary stress

However on the other hand; money and wealth can aid on the road to happiness Money can buy choices and choices mean freedom.
Do you hate your job? You can quit and take your time finding a better one. In an unhappy relationship? You don’t have to stay, you can take your money and leave. Hate the town you live in? Call the movers.

Money can buy convenience. Are you too tired to make dinner? Order out. Don’t you have time to clean your house? Hire a cleaning service.
You’ve been told to evacuate because of a hurricane? Woo! You’re not going to sit in a flooded house with no electricity for a week. You’re going to Destin to chill on the beach.

Money can buy time. You had a baby and you don’t want to go back to work? You’re a stay at home parent now. Is your sister having a destination wedding in Antigua? Excellent, pack your bags. Your mom had surgery and needs you to stay with her for a few weeks? Cancel your appointments, you’re going to be out of town. All of these examples are examples of having control over your own life, not feeling trapped. When we feel like we’re trapped and we don’t have choices, we feel unhappy and anxious.


  • https://www.lottoland.co.uk/magazine/lottery-demographics.html
  • https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-dark-reasons-so-many-rich-people-are-miserable-human-beings-2018-02-22
  • https://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/hedonic-treadmill.asp
  • https://www.inc.com/eric-mack/rich-people-really-can-buy-happiness-but-its-different-than-what-poor-get-for-free.html
  • https://www.listenmoneymatters.com/money-financial-freedom/
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/ilyapozin/2016/03/03/the-secret-to-happiness-spend-money-on-experiences-not-things/#5c62369139a6
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill
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