What Makes Rich People Happier Than the Rest of Us?
A new study shows it’s not their material purchases
Peering into the lives of the rich is a guilty pleasure. Collectively, we love to hate them, even as we scroll through their Instagram pages and read about what they buy, what they do, and where they go. At the heart of this curiosity is our desire to find the answer to the question: Are they really happier than the rest of us?
Statistically speaking, yes, they are. Studies have found a positive association between wealth and life satisfaction. That’s not exactly a shocking revelation, I know. What’s interesting, however, is that the happiness wealthy people experience may stem less from what they buy and more from how they spend their time. In a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers surveyed more than 800 millionaires in the Netherlands along with a nationally representative sample of around 1,200 people. They compared how the two groups spent their time both at work and in their daily activities (cooking, eating, commuting, working, relaxing, volunteering, and hobbies) as well as their overall life satisfaction.
There were fewer variations than expected. When it came to daily activities, for example, both spent about the same amount of time cooking and shopping. The millionaires spent less time on childcare but more time on household chores.
One key difference was the type of leisure these groups engaged in. While the millionaires spent about the same amount of time as everyone else on leisure, they were significantly more likely than the general population to use that time for active activities (praying, socializing, maintaining close relationships, exercise, hobbies, and volunteering) as opposed to passive ones (watching TV, napping and resting, relaxing, and doing nothing).
The groups also differed in the way they work. While millionaires worked about the same amount as the general population, they enjoyed greater autonomy at their jobs.
So what do the results mean for those of us who are not, and may never become, rich? Plenty. We learn that when financial constraints are removed, the things people gravitate toward are active leisure activities and job autonomy. Sure, money certainly makes both of those more attainable, but those of us in any income bracket can work to incorporate them into our lives. We can start a hands-on project. Or spend time reading to underprivileged kids. Or ask our managers if we can implement a creative solution to a work problem. These luxuries aren’t reserved for the rich, so why not enjoy them now?
Those who “have it all” aren’t seeking lives devoid of work and chores — instead, they’re finding ways to spend their time purposefully and deliberately, both in work and play. They’re just doing so in nicer houses.