Money can’t buy happiness — but lack of it can certainly make you progressively miserable, says one Nobel Prize-winning economist.
Daniel Kahneman, one of the founders of the now-popular field of behavior economics, delivered a fascinating TED talk earlier this year entitled “The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory,” and got into an interesting discussion with TED host and curator Chris Anderson. (Hat tip to GatesVPblog via My Money Blog.)
Arguing that experience is essentially divided into the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self,” Kahnemen suggests that happiness is essentially an act of deftly balancing the two. (They don’t always match up, it turns out.) Here’s Kahneman:
We know something about what controls satisfaction of the happiness self. We know that money is very important, goals are very important. We know that happiness is mainly being satisfied with people that we like, spending time with people that we like. There are other pleasures, but this is dominant. So if you want to maximize the happiness of the two selves, you are going to end up doing very different things. The bottom line of what I’ve said here is that we really should not think of happiness as a substitute for well-being. It is a completely different notion.
After the speech, Anderson pointed to the result of a 2009 Gallup survey that compared rates of depression to income levels. Here’s the exchange:
Chris Anderson: Thank you. I’ve got a question for you. Thank you so much. Now, when we were on the phone a few weeks ago, you mentioned to me that there was quite an interesting result came out of that Gallup survey. Is that something you can share since you do have a few moments left now?
Daniel Kahneman: Sure. I think the most interesting result that we found in the Gallup survey is a number, which we absolutely did not expect to find. We found that with respect to the happiness of the experiencing self. When we looked at how feelings vary with income. And it turns out that, below an income of 60,000 dollars a year, for Americans, and that’s a very large sample of Americans, like 600,000, but it’s a large representative sample, below an income of 600,000 dollars a year…
DK: 60,000. (Laughter) 60,000 dollars a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I’ve rarely seen lines so flat. Clearly, what is happening is money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery, and we can measure that misery very, very clearly. In terms of the other self, the remembering self, you get a different story. The more money you earn the more satisfied you are. That does not hold for emotions…
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