Replication study: Money still can’t buy happiness — but it might reduce sadness

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The relationship between a person’s well-being and their income is more complex than a simple cliché, but according to research there is a lot of truth behind the saying that “money can’t buy you happiness”. Previous studies have supported this claim, while also discovering that income may still play a valuable role in sustaining psychological well-being. Happiness and sadness are often measured as two ends of one scale, but examining them as separate constructs has allowed researchers to identify associations that would have otherwise been missed. One such example is an inverse relationship between income and sadness.

Published by the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, a 2016 study by Nathan W. Hudson and colleagues replicated an American investigation (Kushlev, Dunn and Lucas, 2015) to evaluate the association between sadness and income reliability in Germany.

Longitudinal participant data for the years 2012 to 2014 was obtained from an existing socioeconomic database and included 2504 total subjects (52% female), along with multiple measures of both positive and negative psychological attributes (happiness, sadness, enthusiasm, frustration, affect, etc.) that were obtained throughout the progression of each day.

As predicted, income was found to be significantly correlated with daily sadness levels, but not happiness. No other significant associations were found. These results matched the replicated study closely, though effect sizes were smaller. Multiple analyses that controlled for stress and demographic variables like age and gender showed that the relationship was independent of such factors. No effects were noted when income change was studied within individuals over time, but this may have been the result of a low variance in these levels (income was relatively steady over time for individuals).

This study successfully replicated the results of its successor, while also adding valuable findings to the record, like confirming the presence of the money-sadness inverse relationship in another country. Income levels were once again significantly associated with sadness but not happiness, and a number of variables (daily stress, gender, age, etc.) were eliminated as potential mediators of the effect.

It is possible that the association is supported by judgements of personal competence or value to society, as people may feel helpless and/or inadequate when unable to meet the demands of sudden financial need. This reaction would be in line with the current focus on earning as a measurement of personal success in modern societies.