Being wealthy does not equate to the easy life

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-being 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 between income and global life 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.


4 thoughts on “Being wealthy does not equate to the easy life

  1. slowdecline

    I firmly believe that money does not equate happiness, I was making over $100 grand a year. After taking a $40,000 pay cut it was like retirement, however I had to take a job were I now make about $60,000 per year. Still happier making less money though than the employees I left from my 100 g’s per year job. I have known quite a few poverty level citizens and all and all I say they are happier than my well paid peers.

    What always amazes me is that people who are driven by money always want more when there is a lot more to life than money.

    The wealthy always have the attitude I got my screw the others, what a pitiful life they live.

  2. falamano

    I believe in a certain way this can be related to weight loss. A lot of people try to lose weight but don’t want to do any effort and they get stuck in trying to find out the magic pill or diet that will make then achieve their goals.
    In my opinion if you want to lose your extra pounds there isn’t any other option than move your butt.
    Actually this article give me an idea to write about, thanks for the post.

  3. dumakey

    Great Blog, found this by accident!

    I agree to a certain point, however money is much needed to alow pleasure time, when you struggle from day to day just to buy food and pay bills there is little or nothing left to pursure leasure, a trip to the pool costs money!

    Its sort of getting the balance right and not getting lost in the social concept of living, this whole idea of wealth often becomes the focus of life, some how in trying to live we get lost, and actually forget to live.

    I dont know I just think life is far to complicated these days and the important things get missed, the only certainty of life is the uncertainty of what follows, the rest is just a set of ideas and rules that equate at the end to nothing!

  4. bentlyr Post author

    falamano great point. Maybe there is a link here with weight… TV is enjoyable but why not actually live the life on TV rather than watch someone else living life on TV.

    dumakay, i think a point to take home is that happiness in the end is relative. I think after you have the pleasures of shelter, food, and other essentials money is less important.


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