A new large-scale study of over 12,000 participants shows that higher income is associated with less daily sadness but not more daily happiness (Kushlev, Dunn, & Lucas, 2015).
Previous research has documented a positive relationship between income and subjective well-being (e.g., Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002), but the relationship between income and sadness has, until now, not been explored in depth.
The notion of happiness is not equivalent to lack of sadness, which means that happiness and sadness are distinct emotional states rather than diametric opposites, the authors say. This fact makes it both interesting and relevant to explore the relationship between income and sadness.
Why would people with higher income experience less daily sadness? The study’s correlational design makes it impossible to document causality. Is it the higher income alone that predicts sadness, or do other factors influence this relationship?
The results reveal that the relationship between income and sadness is not influenced by a number of demographic variables (e.g., age, sex, education, employment, marital status, ethnicity), stress, or how people spend their daily time (e.g., commuting, working, shopping, exercising, relaxing).
What might then explain the relationship between income, sadness and happiness? The authors provide a plausible explanation:
“… Wealthier people feel less sad at least in part because wealth can make people feel more in control over negative events … And higher income may provide little net benefit for happiness because wealth undermines savoring of positive emotional experiences.” (p. 487).
So, this study suggests that money can’t buy us happiness, but it can make us less sad, most plausibly because it gives us more control over our lives.