Philadelphia, Aug 15. The best single predictor of happiness is Physical health. The others like income, education and marital status only follow health as per a recent study.
Glenn Firebaugh of the Pennsylvania State University and graduate student Laura Tach from Harvard University measured the age, total family income and general happiness of 20-to-64-year-olds using analysis from the 1972-2002 General Social Survey.
They checked for health, education, effects of getting older, race and marital status. Happiness was measured using a self-report response of "very happy", "pretty happy", or "not too happy".
The researchers found a relative income effect -- the richer you are relative to your age peers, the happier you will tend to be.
Said Firebaugh: "We find with and without controls for age, physical health, education, and other correlates of happiness," said Firebaugh, "that the higher the income of others in one's age group, the lower one's happiness. Families whose income earners are in jobs with flat income trajectories are likely to become less happy over time. Thus the relative income effect observed here implies adverse effects for some individuals over the working years of their life cycles."
Firebaugh argues that, in evaluating their own incomes, individuals compare themselves to their peers of the same age. Therefore a person's reported level of happiness depends on how his or her income compares to others in the same age group. Using comparison groups on the basis of age, the researchers find evidence of both relative and absolute effects, but relative income is more important than absolute income in determining the happiness of individuals in the United States. This may result in a self-indulgent treadmill, because incomes in the United States rise over most of the adult lifespan.
Contact: Johanna Olexy or Lee Herring
American Sociological Association
(IANS and Eurekaalert)