Our culture is filled with aphorisms and cautionary tales about the corrupting effect of money. “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” “Money is the root of all evil.”
Yet our collective obsession with money and consumerism persists.
A new study from SUNY Buffalo confirms that being fixated on money is indeed unhealthy. When people base their self-worth on their financial success, they’re more likely to suffer from a host of psychological issues, including higher levels of anxiety and helplessness. People who tie their self-worth to their financial success also tend to use more more words that describe negative emotions, such as “sadness” and “anger,” according to the study.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study, though, was that these results were true regardless of class and financial status. In other words, rich people consumed with amassing wealth are just as unhappy as poor ones.
“Basing self-worth on financial success predicts psychological well-being independent of variables [such as wealth and economic class],” says psychology professor Lora Park, lead author on the study. “We do find, however, that people who experience more economic hardship are more likely to base their self-esteem on financial success.”
As Park mentions, ours is a consumer culture that tends to equate a person’s bank account with their intellect and general competence. So it’s easy to understand why poor Americans might view their situation as an indictment of their character.
That rich people are equally affected suggests that, when money is a goal in and of itself, no amount of it will ever provide a person with the psychological fulfillment they so desperately desire. “Beyond a certain point, more money doesn’t lead to greater happiness,” Park says.
Indeed, in a separate study from 2010, Princeton University researchers found that people’s happiness increases with their salary, but only up to $75,000 a year. Any income gains beyond $75,000 have no tangible effect on a person’s well-being.
Park’s study doesn’t mean it’s bad to be money-conscious, however. People are fully capable of being knowledgeable about personal finance and maintaining their mental health, as long as that personal finance knowledge doesn’t evolve into the pursuit of wealth simply for the sake of it.