Proof money really doesn’t buy you happiness! Study of 19 regions shows people who earn virtually nothing are just as content as those on big bucks
It seems that the old saying ‘Money can’t buy happiness’ is true.
A new study has found that people living in low-income areas are much happier than those in rich countries.
Economic growth and higher household incomes have historically been seen as a way to increase people’s well-being and global surveys have shown that people in high-income countries tend to report higher levels of happiness than people in low-income countries.
However, researchers from Barcelona and Canada argue that the conclusion may not be universal and that polls used to draw the conclusion only collect responses from people in industrialized cities – but fail to study people in small-scale societies where money doesn’t ‘ play a central role in everyday life and residents’ livelihoods depend more on nature.
Based on surveys of 2,966 people from indigenous and local communities in 19 locations around the world, researchers have now found that communities of indigenous people and those in small, local communities report that they lead very satisfying lives despite not having a lot of money.
Researchers said that these people may be happier because of family and social support, close relationships, spirituality and connections with nature
Researchers concluded that the findings are strong evidence that economic growth is not necessary for happiness.
Eric Galbraith, lead author of the study, said: ‘Surprisingly, many populations with very low monetary income report very high average levels of life satisfaction, with scores similar to those in rich countries.’
Only 64 percent of households included in the survey have any cash income.
And researchers wrote high life satisfaction is shown ‘despite many of these societies having suffered histories of marginalization and oppression.’
The 19 communities were selected for a study to evaluate local knowledge of the impact of climate change. Within that study was a life evaluation question.
The researchers translated the question into the local languages of the communities they investigated: ‘Taking all aspects into account, how satisfied are you with your life on a scale of 0 to 10?’
Ten represented the most satisfaction.
Although all the societies were highly dependent on nature for their livelihood, they varied widely when it came to social, cultural and environmental characteristics.
The average life satisfaction score on a scale of zero to 10 among the studied societies was 6.8. The lowest score was 5.1, but four of the communities surveyed scored eight or higher on the scale, making them some of the happiest people in the world.
The community of farmers in the Western Highlands of Guatemala was the happiest, with an average score of 8.6. The Western Highlands is a mountainous region in Guatemala that includes the Sierra Madre mountain range.
Average household assets in the community were valued at $3,500.
The community with the lowest score was that of farmers in Chiredzi, Zimbabwe, a town in southeastern Zimbabwe with a population of about 40,400. The average life satisfaction score there was 5.1 and the average household assets were valued at $71.
Based on the comprehensive World Happiness Report, the happiest countries were Finland with a score of 7.8, Denmark with 7.6 and Iceland with 7.5.
The World Happiness Report, now in its 11th year, is based on people’s own assessment of their happiness, as well as economic and social data. It assigns a happiness score on a scale of zero to ten, based on an average of data over a three-year period
The 2023 World Happiness Report is based on people’s own assessment of their happiness, as well as economic and social data.
Similar to the question asked in the study of 19 communities, the World Happiness Report asks respondents to rate their lives on a scale from zero – the worst – to 10 – the best.
The UK fell two places to 19th – while the US jumped one place to 15th in the annual UN-sponsored index.
In the most recent study, the highest scoring communities were in Central and South America.
Victoria Reyes-Garcia, senior author of the study, said: ‘The strong correlation frequently observed between income and life satisfaction is not universal and proves that wealth – as generated by industrialized economies – is not fundamentally necessary for people to be happy lives.’
The researchers said this is good news for the environment and sustainability efforts around the world because it suggests that resource-intensive economic growth is not necessary for people to feel high levels of life satisfaction.
While the findings suggest that money does not buy happiness, the researchers could not hypothesize why indigenous and fringe communities report high levels of satisfaction.
Citing previous research on related matters, the researchers said this could be due to family and social support, close relationships, spirituality and connections with nature.
Galbraith added: ‘But it is possible that the important factors differ considerably between societies or, conversely, that a small subset of factors predominates everywhere.
“I would hope that by learning more about what makes life satisfying in these diverse communities, it can help many others lead more fulfilling lives while addressing the sustainability crisis.”
The study was published by researchers from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and McGill University in Canada in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.