It was the happiest of times. It was the toughest of times.
Two headlines in my daily news feed caught my eye this morning.
The first, Money actually can buy happiness, study finds, by , touched on a subject that I have written about numerous times – the link between money and happiness. The headline gives the gist of the study. The study used data from the General Social Survey (GSS), one of the longest-running nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults Over the age of 30, with 44,198 participants between 1972 and 2016.
The GSS asked, “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days? Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” The new study divided respondents into quintiles and deciles on the basis of income and looked at how they answered that question over several decades. Adults who were in the top decile of inflation-adjusted household income ($108,410 and higher) were 5 percent more likely to say they were “very happy” than people in the ninth decile.
The new study found no evidence that happiness tapers off after a certain income point, though it did not study incomes within the top decile to see if the happiness-income correlation continued to rise for those earning over $108,410. This result runs counter to a famous 2010 Princeton University report showing that at levels higher than $75,000, a rise in income is not associated with greater happiness. (The Princeton study posed a slightly different question – asking participants how they had felt the previous day and whether they were living the best possible life for themselves.)
The study also noted that the happiness of whites with no college education steadily declined since 1972, while the happiness of whites with college education stayed steady.
For African Americans, the results were different but still reflected a rising money-happiness correlation: Happiness levels of blacks with no college education has stayed steady since 1972, while the happiness of blacks with college education has increased. For both races, the happiness gap by education has grown.
Jean Twenge, the paper’s lead author, told The Washington Post, “The link [between income and happiness] is stronger now than in previous decades”, adding that the decrease in happiness among lower-income people may be a result of rising inequality, increasing real estate values and decreased ability to pay for education.
So after reading this story, I thought, OK, there is a link between money and happiness.
But then I came across the second headline: The revolutionary act of choosing happiness as a Black, disabled woman. The writer, Keah Brown, is the author of essay collection called The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me.
Brown notes that when she created #DisabledAndCute in 2017, she did so to capture a moment, a moment of trust in herself to keep choosing joy every single day. She wanted to celebrate how she finally felt that, in her Black and disabled body, that she, too, deserved joy.
Brown, who has verbal palsy, knows that she may not find joy every day. Some days will just be hard, and she will simply exist, and that’s okay, too. No one should have to be happy all the time—no one can be, with the ways in which life throws curveballs at us. On those days, it’s important not to mourn the lack of joy but to remember how it feels, to remember that to feel at all is one of the greatest gifts we have in life.
She believed that she would die before She ever saw a day where She felt excited at the prospect of being alive. She realized she was wrong on a snowy day in 2016 just after Christmas, when she vowed to try to hold on to and nurture the feeling of joy, even if skeptically. Brown championed the act of effort and patience with herself by forcing herself to reroute negative thoughts with positive ones. Instead of saying what she hated about herself, she spoke aloud what she liked about herself.
Brown notes that her joy is her freedom—it allows her to live her life as she sees fit. She won’t leave this earth without the world knowing that she chose to live a life that made her happy, made her think, made her whole.
So after reading this second article, I began to question whether money really does buy happiness.
Is happiness more a state of mind, as opposed to a level of income? Could you proactively choose to be happy, to find joy, like Brown, no matter your circumstances?
Or is it perhaps more likely a little bit of both, maybe even reinforcing the Princeton study.
Sure, money helps. As Maslow has pointed out, before we move up the hierarchy, we need to fulfill our basic needs, and money is usually critical in doing so. But to move beyond that, it’s not really money that helps as much as a positive outlook on life and a sense of hope and a sense that we have control over our emotions, including happiness.
I congratulate Keah Brown on the success she has had, and I wish her continued happiness (and I hope her book makes her lots of money…)