Mom was right: the rich neighbours aren’t happy
Rich people in SA are more miserable than those with a middling income, global survey finds
A cool R573,000 income a year will make you happy if you live in SA – just don’t up that amount to more than R1m, because you will become unhappy.
This is according to an article published in the journal Nature, which combined its own research with data from the Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report, looking at the link between income and happiness.
It polled 1.7 million people in 164 countries, across the world’s nine different regions.
The research suggests in SA, an annual salary of R573,000 per household will keep you optimally happy, compared to the international average of R1.3m.
But once you earn more than R1m a year in SA, you are less happy. That is because you spend too much time at work and you are too stressed.
Conducted by researchers from Purdue and Virginia universities in the US, the study titled Happiness, Income Satiation and Turning Points Around the World states that while globally income was known to be associated with happiness, debates persisted about the exact nature of this relationship.
The research looked at whether happiness rises with income, or whether there is a point at which higher incomes no longer leads to greater well-being.
The regions surveyed include North America, Central and Latin America, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, east and southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
The study showed that when it came to life evaluation and income, households globally were satisfied with an income of US$95,000 (R1.3m), while to achieve a level of satisfaction for emotional well-being, households needed to earn between US$60,000 (R858,000) and US$75,000 (R1m) annually.
Researchers used studies that looked at how often people experienced enjoyment, smiled and laughed, rested, felt respected, were intellectually stimulated and also experienced negative emotions such anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry.
The authors said where people lived and education levels affected people’s satisfaction levels.
The study reveals the amounts of money that brought satisfaction varied substantially across the world, with satisfaction “occurring later in wealthier regions”.
“These findings on income and happiness have practical and theoretical significance at the individual, institutional and national levels. They point to a degree of happiness adaptation and that money influences happiness through the fulfilment of both needs and increasing material desires.”
When it came to life evaluation, the highest level of satisfaction occurred in western Europe at US$100,000 (R1.4m); North America at US$105,000 (R1.5m); East Asia at US$110,000 (R1.5m); the Middle East and North Africa at US$115,000 (R1.6m) and Australia and New Zealand at US$125,000 (R1.8m).The regions where satisfaction occurred at lower levels were Latin America at US$35,000 (R501,000); sub-Saharan Africa – which includes SA – at US$40,000 (R573,000); eastern Europe at US$45,000 (R644,000) and southeast Asia at US$70,000 (R1m).The study said in sub-Saharan Africa “negative emotions occurred at [a level of income from] US$50,000 (R715,000) up to US$75,000 (R1m)”.“In fact, for life evaluation, we found that after satiation [satisfaction] had been reached, further increases in income were associated with slight decrements to subjective well-being. We refer to these as turning points.”The study looked at the issue of income satisfaction and whether there was a level after which more money no longer brings more happiness, which “informs our understanding of the overall association between income and happiness”.The authors found that “groups at the higher income are no happier than groups at the lower initial income”.
Clinical psychologist Charity Mkone said the research topic was incredibly interesting.
“For different people, money serves different roles. From a psychological perspective, many people on an unconscious level see money as symbolism and often associate money with being able to obtain certain things, including being in control.
“For lots, the perception is that having lots of money leads to happiness, which is often a mirage as they believe that by having money to afford certain things they will get rid of certain emotions.”
She said often when people reached the point where they thought they had the right amount of money, they were left disappointed and disillusioned, as they still had the same emotional issues they had hoped money would solve.
Prof Sarah Nuttall, director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, said the only way to address growing global inequality was to look at a universal welfare system, “where nations come together and make a global agreement to produce sustainability and undo income inequality of an order we have never seen before”.
“This would be through a system of financial redistribution pioneered by a welfare state. It would be the only way to correlate not only a living wage but economic redistribution in a manner that might even begin to approximate the possibility of happiness for the greatest number of people.”