You can’t buy happiness, but you can earn it by being the kind of person others admire. New research shows that,
for making yourself happy, how respected you are by those around you trumps how
much money you have in the bank.
The research, headed by business school professor Cameron
Anderson at the University of California, Berkeley, appears in the journal Psychological Science. In a series of
four studies, Anderson and his coauthors looked at the effects of two different
kinds of status: the type that comes from having money and a high-paying job
and the type that comes from being respected and admired.
One way or another, most ads are selling the same idea: The
secret to happiness is having enough money to buy some thing, whether it’s a sports car or sporty sneakers. Yet dozens of past
studies have shown that material wealth doesn’t actually boost long-term happiness
much at all.
Why not? One reason may be that the jolt of glee from buying
a new toy or making a big bank deposit is fleeting. Research in lottery winners,
for example, shows that their initial elation soon wears off. Winners quickly adapt
to drinking fine wine instead of wine in a box or wearing quality diamonds
instead of cubic zirconia. Before long, they revert to their original level of
If socioeconomic status—the type of status derived from
money and income—isn’t the key to happiness after all, what is? That’s the question that Anderson’s
team set out to investigate.
Anderson and his coauthors focused on sociometric status—the
type of status derived from being looked up to and held in high esteem by friends,
neighbors, and colleagues. The researchers reasoned that admired individuals
tend to wield influence and have connections. Consequently, they have a sense
of personal power and social acceptance, and these feelings may foster
Apparently, the researchers are on the right track. Although the
four studies reported in their paper used different methodologies, all showed
the same basic thing: When it came to lasting happiness, respect made a bigger
difference than money.
One of the studies looked at MBA students a month before
graduation and again nine months after graduation. This major life transition
had the potential to change both their financial situation and their social
standing. For example, one new MBA might land a high-paying job and see a big
jump in income. Another might go from grad school to unemployment and feel less
As the students’ respect level rose or fell after
graduation, their happiness rose or fell accordingly. In contrast, postgrad
financial status didn’t have as much effect on how happy they felt. Anderson
offers a possible explanation: Unlike material things, being admired may never