Published September 13, 2013
Maybe money can buy happiness. According to one poll, the happiest people in America are those with the most money.
A new study from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News finds wealthier Americans, retirees, Hispanics and Westerners report being the most content with their lives. They rate their lives more frequently a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least satisfied with their situations. Those who consider themselves poor and report being the least happy.
The poll asked 496 people to rate their lives, and found 50% gave themselves an 8 or higher, a higher percentage than in recent years. In 2007, these numbers reached a high of 61% of respondents rating their lives on a similarly high scale, but they slipped during the financial crisis and following Great Recession.
What’s more, nearly two-thirds of respondents with advanced degrees rated their lives at least an 8 or higher in this year’s poll.
Wealth played a major factor in the study with 66% households making at least $75,000 a year or more rating their lives an 8 or higher. Forty percent of those labeling themselves as poor ranked their lives a 3 or less.
Gerri Detweiler, credit expert for Credit.com, says the connection between wealth and happiness puts a dent in the money-can’t-buy happiness motto.
“We like to think that you can be happy on any income, and people can be,” Detweiler says. “But it’s harder when you are poor or have less money.”
And living in poverty can impact stress and health levels, she adds, which can weigh on happiness levels.
“Unfortunately, financial problems can feed into other kinds of problems,” she says. “You may eat poorly, or eat less expensive junk food, so you feel worse. It’s a cycle of trying to get your life on track.”
Financial planner John O’Meara adds constantly worrying about finances is stressful.
“It’s a tough thing, because people who are poor do have higher stress levels,” he says. “Wealth makes you avoid worry more, so you don’t talk as much about it.”
Older Americans (ages 65 and up) were among the happiest in the poll, with 59% rating their lives at least an 8 or higher. Those in pre-retirement, ages 50-to-64 were the least happy, the poll finds.
Detweiler was surprised to see the levels of retiree happiness so high. “Retirees were hit so hard in many cases by the economic downturn,” she says. “They saw their savings evaporate, but they have a basic safety net. Some have social security, or a home that is paid for. Or maybe they have just decided, ‘I know what matters in life, and it’s not money.’”