Surprise! Rags to riches nations aren't happier.
Moving from poverty to affluence doesn't lead to lasting happiness.
Raising a country from poverty to affluence should make the nation's population happier, right? Wrong, according to a new study of 54 countries worldwide.Skip to next paragraph
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Money doesn't buy happiness over the long term, the study found. The results apply to developed and developing countries worldwide, said study researcher Richard Easterlin, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California.
"Happiness doesn't increase with the rate of economic growth even in less-developed countries or transitional countries," Easterlin told LiveScience. "We already know that to be true of developed countries, but now it's been extended to countries of lower levels of income."
Easterlin and his colleagues reported the results this week (Dec. 13) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The happiness paradox
Almost 40 years ago, Easterlin discovered a strange economic pattern in the United States: If you look at snapshot data, richer people are happier than poorer people, and wealthier countries have more satisfied populations than less well-off nations. But when you look at data collected over time, more income doesn't bring happiness.
"If you look across countries and compare happiness and GDP [gross domestic product] per capita, you find that the higher the country's income, the more likely it is to be happier," Easterlin said. "So the expectation based on point-in-time data is if income goes up, then happiness will go up. The paradox is, when you look at change over time, that doesn't happen." [US is Richest Nation, But Not Happiest]
The 'Easterlin paradox,' as it is known, has been the subject of much academic debate. The new study, Easterlin said, is the broadest finding about the paradox so far. The researchers gathered between 10 and 34 years of happiness data from 17 Latin American countries, 17 developed countries, 11 Eastern European countries transitioning from socialism to capitalism and nine-less developed countries. They found no relationship between economic growth and happiness in any case.
Even in a country like China, the researchers wrote, where per capita income has doubled in 10 years, happiness levels haven't budged. South Korea and Chile have shown similarly astronomical economic growth with no increase in satisfaction.