Social scientists think they’ve discovered a formula for happiness, writes Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times, and making lots of money is not a part of it.
Decades of research have boiled human happiness down to just three factors: genes, events, and values. About half of how happy you feel is hardwired into your genetic make up, according to the article. Meanwhile, one-off events like getting married or landing a big promotion can contribute up to 40% of your happiness, but tend to offer just a temporary boost that lasts a few months.
Brooks says the remaining 12% of factors that govern how happy you feel are faith, family, community, and work. Because of the social connection and meaning they tend to create, the first three are likely not too shocking. However, the idea that working may be a significant contributor to your happiness and wellbeing is more surprising. After all, it’s something that many people spend their entire lives aspiring to retire from.
Interestingly, money is not a big part of the equation, since meaningful work that helps us feel successful seems to be the reward itself. Moving beyond the poverty level will make you happier and less stressed, but earning more money than you need to comfortably live does not make much of a difference. Not having good work, on the other hand, can be devastating. As Brooks writes:
So relieving poverty brings big happiness, but income, per se, does not. Even after accounting for government transfers that support personal finances, unemployment proves catastrophic for happiness. Abstracted from money, joblessness seems to increase the rates of divorce and suicide, and the severity of disease….
Assemble these clues and your brain will conclude what your heart already knew: Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
For those who dread the daily slog, perhaps this insight could put working into perspective. It seems that money really can’t buy happiness, but working towards something meaningful just might.