The wealth of the nation one resides in has important — but mixed — consequences for one’s happiness.
That is the conclusion of a study published April 22 in Psychological Science, which found that the average income of a country can have a greater impact on a person’s overall happiness than their own personal income.
“Whether one lives in a rich nation, such as The Netherlands, or in a poor one, such as Zimbabwe, dramatically affects one’s sense of well-being,” Louis Tay of Purdue University and his colleagues wrote in their study. “Living among the affluent is both a boon and a bane: It can promote more positive life evaluations, but the opportunity cost is lower feelings of happiness.”
The study used data from the Gallup World Poll to examine the effects of individual household income and national wealth on current life evaluations and subjective well-being for 838,151 individuals in 158 countries.
Those living in wealthier nations were more likely than those living in poorer nations to report they were living the “best possible life.” A statistical analysis found that national income had significant positive effects on life evaluations over and above the effects of individual income.
But the relationship between income and happiness was not straightforward. Greater national wealth was associated with more negative feelings — like anxiety and anger — while greater personal income was associated with less negative feelings.
In other words, those living in wealthier nations were more satisfied with their lives, even though they tended to experience more negative feelings in their daily life.
“Compared with neighborhood wealth, national wealth more likely translates into better infrastructure, which in turn benefits not only the wealthy but also the poor. Further, better infrastructure and conveniences are evaluable and thus translate into the evaluative component of subjective well-being, life evaluations. Nevertheless, in richer nations, environmental degradation, a faster pace of life, and upward comparisons may be detrimental to everyday experiences and feelings of happiness,” Tay and his colleagues explained.