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Richer but No Happier

Jonathan Clements  |  May 22, 2015

“TAKEN ALL together, how would you say things were these days? Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?” We now have the latest answers to this question, thanks to the release last month of results from the 2014 General Social Survey.

In 2014, 32.5% of Americans said they were very happy, versus a 42-year average of 33.3%. Meanwhile, 27% said they were satisfied with their financial situation, compared with a 42-year average of 29.6%. During this 42-year stretch, U.S. inflation-adjusted per capita disposable income grew 110%. In other words, our standard of living more than doubled—and yet both our overall level of happiness and our satisfaction with our financial situation are below their 42-year averages. Clearly, money hasn’t bought a whole of happiness.

Time, however, may help. Other studies have found that happiness through life is U-shaped, with our level of satisfaction often hitting bottom in our 40s. But this doesn’t show up in the General Social Survey. Instead, the survey found that overall happiness climbs as we grow older. The survey also found that our satisfaction with our financial situation increases with age, as does our job satisfaction.

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