One Chart Proves Money Really Does Buy Happiness — To a Point

Source: AP
Source: AP

We like to say that money won't make us happy, mostly to keep spirits up about not being able to afford something. But it turns out on a global scale, money can buy happiness — at least to a certain extent.

A new study from Pew Research Center reveals that income is linked to life satisfaction. People in richer countries tend to be happier than people in poorer countries. There's a caveat, though: At a certain point, the effect tapers off, putting most well-off countries on similar footing happiness-wise. Wealth, it seems, has diminishing returns on a national scale, despite the fact that it may make a few mega-wealthy citizens happy.

Take a look:

Respondents were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 10, with a score of 7 or above designated as happy. The result has a clear correlation, with a smaller percentage of residents in low-GDP countries like Kenya and Tanzania rating themselves a 7 or above, compared to a much higher percentage of those in high-GDP countries like Germany and the U.S.

One big outlier is Mexico, rated as the happiest country here despite being middle of the pack in terms of gross domestic product. So-called "emerging markets" like Mexico, along with "developing economies" like Kenya, have tended to become  happier in the past seven years, according to Pew. "Advanced economies," on the other hand, have become slightly less happy on average.

Source: Pew

A country-by-country look at changes provides more evidence that happiness levels are linked with economic performance. Countries like Indonesia that have seen huge increases in GDP have also seen happiness levels go up, while the opposite is true for countries like Spain.

Getting personal: These figures, of course, are on a very large scale. It's not to say that everyone in Germany is happier than everyone in Turkey, since there are plenty of other factors outside the economy that can affect how positive you're feeling.

On a personal level, money still buys happiness, though it depends a lot on what you spend your money on. A psychological study earlier this year found that experiences like vacations were much more likely to inspire good feelings than material goods.

Still, the point of the old adage remains — there's no magic way to exchange your money for a better outlook on life. But having a nice economy around you sure does help.

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Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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