Happiness Linked to Respect, Not Money
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Hit songs have been written on the topic, employees regularly believe management needs to provide more of it, and now research confirms that life happiness is related to how much you are respected and admired by your surrounding peers.
In a new study, Cameron Anderson, a psychological scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues confirmed that overall happiness in life is related to how much you are respected and admired by those around you and not by income or education.
“We got interested in this idea because there is abundant evidence that higher socioeconomic status — higher income or wealth, higher education — does not boost subjective well-being (or happiness) much at all. Yet at the same time, many theories suggest that higher status should boost happiness,” said Anderson.
So if higher socioeconomic status doesn’t equate with a greater sense of well-being, then what does?
Anderson and his colleagues hypothesized that higher sociometric status — respect and admiration in your face-to-face groups, such as your friendship network, your neighborhood, or your athletic team — might make a difference in your overall happiness.
“Having high standing in your local ladder leads to receiving more respect, having more influence, and being more integrated into the group’s social fabric,” Anderson said.
Anderson and his colleagues designed four experiments to test this hypothesis.
In the first study, they surveyed 80 college students who participated in 12 different campus groups, including sororities and ROTC. Each student’s sociometric status was calculated through a combination of peer ratings, self-report, and the number of leadership positions the student had held in his or her group.
The students also reported their total household income and answered questions related to their social well-being. After accounting for gender and ethnicity, the researchers found that sociometric status, but not socioeconomic status, predicted students’ social well-being scores.
Investigators discovered a comparable scenario when they surveyed a larger and more diverse sample of participants.
In this study they found that the relationship between sociometric status and well-being could be explained, at least in part, by the sense of power and social acceptance that the students said they felt in their personal relationships.
And in a third study, Anderson and his colleagues provided evidence that the relationship between sociometric status and well-being could actually be evoked and manipulated in an experimental setting.
Finally, researchers investigated if the relationship between happiness and social acceptance was consistent in the real working environment. For this, they studied sociometric status from pre-to post-graduation for students in a MBA program. From this they discovered post-graduation sociometric status predicted social well-being more strongly than did post-graduation socioeconomic status.
“I was surprised at how fluid these effects were – if someone’s standing in their local ladder went up or down, so did their happiness, even over the course of nine months,” said Anderson.
Together, the four studies provide clear evidence for the relationship between sociometric status and well-being. But why does sociometric status seem to matter so much when socioeconomic status doesn’t?
One possible explanation, which Anderson hopes to explore in future research, is that people adapt.
“One of the reasons why money doesn’t buy happiness is that people quickly adapt to the new level of income or wealth. Lottery winners, for example, are initially happy but then return to their original level of happiness quickly,” said Anderson.
But foundational pillars of admiration, inspiration and acceptance appear to have more value than money when it comes to happiness.
“It’s possible that being respected, having influence, and being socially integrated just never gets old,” Anderson said.
The study is published in Psychological Science.