It’s a common conception that money can buy happiness. But a study published this November in the journal Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences suggests the opposite could be true: Happiness buys money. The study found that people who are already happy thanks to a positive upbringing tend to make more money as adults.
Researchers followed more than 15,000 individuals from high school age in 1994 to their late twenties in 2008, with a focus on sibling pairs, including twins and siblings who were not raised in the same household. They also accounted for factors such as genetics, health, education and IQ. Participants were questioned in surveys and during in-home interviews about their overall well-being and how many times certain statements were true in the past week, such as “You enjoyed life,” “You were happy,” and “You felt you were just as good as other people.”
After following the participants for 14 years, the study found a clear link between a satisfying childhood and a higher salary as adults. Some of the reasons the researchers believe that happier children go on to become more successful is due to their positive, outgoing attitude and their greater likelihood of getting hired, promoted and earning a higher degree.
The study’s author, a behavioral science professor at the University College London’s School of Public Policy, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, said the research tests conventional wisdom, whether money buys you happiness. In this case, it’s the happier individual who makes more money in the first place, he says.
The study did not look at the types of professions people chose based on their childhood experiences – for example, if those with below-par upbringings were more drawn to lower paying careers. Regardless, De Neve says it is clear in the results of the study that an unhappy adolescence is a statistical predictor for lower earnings later in life, even taking into account factors like genetics and education, as seen when comparing siblings.
There are countless reasons a happy childhood is important for well being as an adult. “This is yet another good reason why parents should provide an emotionally healthy and happy environment as it may impact their children’s later success,” says De Neve.