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How Much Is That Happiness in the Window? About $75k.

Financial trouble is often cited as one of the top 10 reasons for divorce or child custody disputes. Being strapped for cash can lead to squabbles over spending priorities, which in turn lead to realizations of differences in core values. On the flip side, when the media report on celebrity divorces -- Tiger and Elin Woods, for example -- the focus is not on the amount of time each will spend with their children, but, rather, on how many millions of dollars Elin got in the settlement.

When you think about it, then, does all of this mean that money really can buy happiness? Researchers at Princeton University say yes. Sort of.

The team based their findings on results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index from 2008 and 2009. They reviewed the responses of more than 450,000 U.S. residents who were asked how they evaluated their day-to-day happiness and how they would rate their overall satisfaction with life.

What they found was that the two types of well-being -- emotional well-being and life evaluation -- are influenced by different things. The former, measured by emotional experiences yesterday, were strongly influenced by health, care giving, loneliness, and, of all things, smoking. Life evaluation, though, were closely tied to education and income. 

Because the Gallup data included an income level for each respondent, the researchers were able to analyze the two types of well-being across income lines. They spotted trends, and they discovered that, perhaps, happiness does have a price.

Life evaluation rises with income, it seems. People felt more satisfied with their situations when they had greater purchasing power. No surprise, really.

Emotional well-being also rises with income -- up to $75,000. At that point, the results plateau. The study concludes that there is no improvement whatever in any of the measures of emotional well-being above the $75,000 income mark.

Overall, the researchers determined that low income, as expected, only adds to the pain of divorce, poor health or being alone. High income, on the other hand, "buys life satisfaction but not happiness." 

Sadly, the study's conclusion that poverty "significantly exacerbates" the pain of divorce just underscores what so many families already knew.

Resource: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences "High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-Being" 9/7/10

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