The Pursuit of Happine$$: Money and Job Satisfaction

What do you look for in a job? When my Organizational Psychology professor prompted my class with this question, most of us said something along the lines of high pay and financial stability. It seemed that many of us associated money with happiness, and some of my classmates even avoided applying for internships that were not offering any pay. Is this the right way to go about looking for jobs?

If money does really make people happier, we should expect to see higher ratings of life satisfaction amongst richer people. However, research does not support this idea. An economist called Richard Easterlin investigated the factors that contribute to individuals’ happiness, and found that money does not hold the key to life satisfaction. This idea that people with higher incomes are not necessarily happier is referred to as the Easterlin Paradox – at one given point in life, richer people tend to be happier than poor people, but these rich people do not get happier as they get more income. Easterlin found that this was true amongst various cultures. Why?

What many individuals seem to forget is that other people’s incomes do not remain static as you start to earn more. People tend to find happiness in seeing that they are better off when they compare themselves to others. However, the reality is that as you earn more, many people around you do as well. In other words, your standards of happiness and comparison keep shifting. Easterlin’s research further revealed that, rather than income, employment status (including feeling in control of one’s work, job satisfaction et cetera) has lasting effects on happiness. Moreover, other factors like family and good health were correlated to happiness as well.

What his research findings suggest is that if we really are in a quest for happiness, choosing jobs depending on pay is not ideal. In fact, in his book How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, shares a number of accounts of his B-School classmates who chose jobs based on income and inevitably ended up unhappy. Like Easterlin, he suggests that real career success lies in finding work that motivates you. Both of these scholars’ findings imply that instead of focusing so much on the financial aspects of a job, one should consider the job content, and perhaps even the extent to which they provide support for their family and or their health in their pursuit of happiness.

Sure, the thought of earning millions of dollars sounds great, but it may be worth keeping in mind that this simple assumption that 'money = happiness' can only work for so long. Like The Beatles said, "money can’t buy me love". And in terms of job hunting, it seems that money can’t buy us happiness, either. So choose wisely, be open to opportunities, even if they don’t pay as well as you want. And most importantly… good luck!



*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.

Moeka Komachi

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"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." - Maya Angelou

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