Carla Fried: Comparing yourself to those slightly wealthier yields unhappiness

Carla Fried, on

Published in Business News

The latest version of the global World Happiness Report, which is based on Gallup surveys that ask regular people in more than 90 countries to weigh in on various “life evaluation” measures, ranked the United States as the 19th happiest country in 2020.

Americans stuck on a lower happiness rung

A key component of the overall score asked participants to imagine their life as a ladder with the best life at 10 and the worst possible life at O.

The United States ranked 19th on the ladder section, with an average score of 6.95, trailing Canada (14th place; score of 7.10) and ahead of Mexico (36th place; 6.32). The top five most contented nations are Finland (7.84), Denmark (7.62), Switzerland (7.57), Iceland (7.55) and the Netherlands (7.46).

Money can’t buy you love, but happiness?

A decade ago, two Nobel laureates (one an economist, one a psychologist) looked at two ways to measure happiness. They differentiated our daily emotional well-being (did we experience joy, fascination, anxiety, sadness) from our longer-term “life evaluation” of how we think our life stacks up.


They found that income above $75,000 didn’t improve one’s day-to-day sense of emotional well-being. (That’s about $90,000 in today’s dollars.) As for the big-picture life evaluation, that did improve when incomes rose. But someone at the lower end of the income scale, who had a 10% income bump, experienced the same rise in life evaluation as someone with a high income who got a 10% bump.

How to be happier day to day: Don’t just look up

Even if you’ve yet to hit the $90,000 income level, how you view your financial standing in your world plays a role in your day-to-day happiness.

Part of the human condition is to rate ourselves relative to others. Yet a Morningstar study found that, regardless of income, we typically compare ourselves to people on ladder rungs above us, and, well, that makes us feel crummy.


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