The thought was so comforting: If the rich already have more money, they are not happier. Somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 euros annual income is a limit, so the wisdom went: After that, more money does not make you happier. Accordingly, the research results were often told around the world: in Sunday speeches, in motivational workshops, at degrowth demonstrations. But it is wrong. The central scientist has corrected himself and now says: Happiness can be bought.

Patrick Bernau

Editor responsible for economy and "value" of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

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But first things first. It was none other than the two Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Sir Angus Deaton who asked Americans about their happiness in 2008 and 2009: Did you smile a lot yesterday? Have you had fun? Were you sad?

The result seemed pretty clear. If the income grows by ten percent, then the feeling of happiness also grows, always to the same extent – up to a limit somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 dollars, then it's over. Because one euro and one dollar are usually worth roughly the same, the rate was adopted directly to Europe. But then came Matthew Killingsworth of the University of Pennsylvania.

There is no end

He had 33,000 Americans record their feelings of happiness with their mobile phones three times a day. He concluded: There is no end. That went well over $200,000 in annual income. Then he gradually ran out of subjects – but until the end, more money brought more and more luck.

Now the scientists did something that researchers should do more often: Kahneman and Killingsworth teamed up, calling it a "collaboration of adversaries," and sought a common position. The result was published in March in the journal "PNAS". The two found that Kahneman's questions were simply not selective enough. At a certain level of luck, his questions simply couldn't perceive any differences, so he didn't find any.

Killingsworth's formulation, on the other hand, was so open that he could still determine the differences in happiness among very rich people. Now both agree: The much-invoked limit of happiness does not exist.

It's even more drastic: For the happiest people, their exhilaration grows even faster above $100,000 than at lower incomes.

Against some fates, money does not arrive

Conversely, for the most unfortunate people, there actually seems to be a $100,000 limit in the region. The saddest seventh of the people, more money actually doesn't help them anymore. It is the hard fates of life, as both researchers suspect: heartbreak, grief and depression – these are the fates against which even great wealth does not arrive. Physical pain also affects happiness, science has known that much for a long time.

In any case, the two researchers conclude: That money can alleviate misfortune, this ability is exhausted at some point – then nothing works anymore. That money can increase happiness, this ability, however, knows no end.

And how much happier does money make? That's not so easy to say. Feelings of happiness are fairly constant in every person, external circumstances change them very little. On Friday night everyone feels good, on Sunday evening not so much. Even heavy blows of fate are put away relatively quickly by most people, and after a few months they are as happy as before – in this respect, some of the very unfortunate rich should be able to get out of their misfortune quite quickly and enjoy their money again. After all, this is how much it matters: If the income doubles, happiness grows as much as in a marriage. If your income quadruples, you feel as happy as if every day were the weekend.

The valuation of life grows with prosperity

However, happiness is not everything in life. People give completely different answers when asked how they rate their lives as a whole. There are very different things involved. Are you satisfied with what you have achieved? Does life seem like it has meaning? Is it interesting? And many more things.

Already 15 years ago, the Americans Betsey Stevenson, who later worked in Barack Obama's team, and her husband Justin Wolfers evaluated the answers of around 60,000 people worldwide – with a very clear result: In the question of whether a life is good or not, there is no saturation anyway. The richer the country, the greater the individual income – the valuation of life continues to grow with prosperity. At least for now. In this survey, people were asked to rate their lives with a number between zero and ten. Here, too, one day it will be true that if prosperity continues to grow, then at some point the scale will come to an end. But more money can still make people feel better about their lives – and make them happier.