Rich feelings: better or worse?

It’s the age-old question: we all want money, but does it make us happy? Invariably, the answer is nuanced but some consistent themes have emerged.

Researchers have pooled data on the relationship between money and emotions from more than 1.6 million people across 162 countries and found that wealthier people feel more positive “self-regard emotions” such as confidence, pride and determination.

People with lower incomes, on the other hand, had more negative emotions towards themselves such as anxiety, sadness and shame, reports the study published in the journal Emotion

Perhaps not surprisingly, having a greater sense of control mediated those feelings – in other words, people with more wealth and higher positive self-regard also felt more in control of their life’s direction and ability to surmount obstacles. 

These results held true across high-income and developing countries.

But wait – there’s more to it.

When it comes to feelings people have towards others – such as love, anger, gratitude and compassion – the findings aren’t so clear-cut: there wasn’t a consistent link between these emotions and income. 

“Having more money doesn’t necessarily make a person more compassionate and grateful, and greater wealth may not contribute to building a more caring and tolerant society,” says lead author Eddie Tong, from the National University of Singapore.

Happiness and other global emotions also had no consistent relationship with income across countries, so the jury is still out on that one – clearly other factors are at play.

It’s important to note that the study, based on five large data sets, is correlational – although notably, longitudinal analyses of US data showed that income predicted self-regard emotions over time.

The relationships were relatively small so the true picture is more complex. But the authors note that “some small effects may accumulate into practically significant effects in real life over time.

“The findings here may thus have substantial real-world relevance, at both individual and societal levels.”

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