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Being wealthy does not equate to the easy life

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:21pm


Most people strive to become financially stable to the point of spending all their time on leisure activities. Money paves the way for such a lifestyle… freedom — from work, money worries, household chores and screaming kids. Free to veg out, watching a large-screen plasma TV or playing golf all day.

According to research by Daniel Kahneman , the Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist, quoted in an article in the Washington Post, “being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed.”

People who make less than $20,000 a year… spend more than a third of their time in passive leisure—watching television, for example. Those making more than $100,000 spent less than one-fifth of their time in this way—putting their legs up and relaxing. Rich people spent much more time commuting and engaging in activities that were required as opposed to optional. The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were active, structured and often stressful—shopping, child care and exercise.

It turns out that wealth is a predictor (i.e., not necessarily a cause or effect) that people will spend less time on passive leisure activities (such as watching TV).

A few things to note from the study:

  • Poor was anyone making <$20,000
  • Even though the wealthy spend more time with stressful activities, they report being happier in general (though not by as much as one would expect).
  • Past the point of poverty, one’s happiness stays relatively stable throughout the $30,000 - $100,000+ income range.
  • Increases in income are expected to raise well- be ing by raising consumption opportunities but these material possessions only offer short term pleasure
  • People’s aspirations adapt to their possibilities (people always want more).
  • There is a weak relation be tween income and global l if e satisfaction.
There are several holes in the study but in general, people with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, they also tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities (though I argue that active leisure is extremely pleasurable and I don’t find watching TV that pleasurable).

I say all one has to take from this study is to focus less on income and live life to the fullest (whatever your definition of fullest is). Here’s a little tip though, no one achieves goals by sitting around a television set.

The entire journal article can be found here.

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