They say money can't buy happiness, and "they" would be right. According to a new study, a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a lot further than a paycheck when it comes to being happy for the long haul.
Published recently in the journal Psychological Science, researchers did a total of four studies examining the reasons why higher socioeconomic status such as higher income, wealth or education does not boost subjective wellbeing. The first smaller study surveyed college students' sociometric status (how much they were respected and admired by those around you) and socioeconomic status, and predicted students' social well-being scores. Scientists found that respect was more closely linked with happiness than wealth. The second and third studies went on to confirm the first study in a larger group, and in the final study, researchers followed MBA program students and learned that changes in sociometric status from pre-graduation to post-graduation corresponded to changes in the students' levels of happiness. In fact, post-graduation, perceived-respect predicted happiness more strongly than post-graduation socioeconomic status did, according to ScienceDaily.
So why is this? Licensed Psychotherapist Allison M. Lloyds says that we quickly adapt to anything that becomes familiar—including wealth.
"As an example, past research studies have shown that most lottery winners are in the long run no happier than their fellow non-winners, and paraplegics usually become as satisfied as people who can walk," Lloyds says. "For better of for worse, as human beings, we are able to adapt to both positive and negative life events which are thrown our way. This adaptation theory has held up for decades—making this study unsurprising on certain levels."
What's interesting about the study though is that good ol' respect has sticking power when it comes to leaving us feeling fulfilled and happy for the long-term.
"It highlights the idea that being respected and admired by others, having influence and being socially plugged-in has 'staying power' as it relates to our happiness," she says. "I think that many people who read this study will be surprised because in our culture we directly equate money with happiness."
In fact, Lloyds has had a number of patients who describe feeling depressed and disconnected even though they have everything they once thought they wanted in life, such as a big house, a fancy car and a membership to the right country club.
"I encourage my clients to base their self-worth on inner qualities as opposed to external, temporary factors like money, material goods, etc.," she says. "If we base our self-esteem on positive inner qualities, like compassion and love for others, then our happiness and well being will grow steadily."
However, it's important to remember that happiness is not just about being "liked" or being part of some higher social class.
"Feverishly chasing things like high social standing can be negative and overwhelming, leading to feelings of burnout and frustration," she says. "The compulsive desire to be liked, respected and accepted by those around us is a coping mechanism, which is aimed at trying to get people to treat us well—it often compensates for underlying feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem."
Lloyds says that when we don't feel confident and at peace with ourselves, we may enter into an endless cycle of working for others' approval and acceptance, hoping this will bring us happiness. Oftentimes, this only brings frustration, disappointment and exhaustion.
So what's a girl to do to get a little respect and happiness without obsessing about it? Focus on gratitude and what's really important in life, Lloyds says. As a culture, she believe that we have devalued a great deal of what is important in life and what truly makes us happy.
"We are instead motivated by the messages we see in the media, to earn more money and spend more money—which ultimately will make us happy—but alas, this is not the way," she says. "This study shows that it's not 'all about the Benjamins!'"
Have you noticed a link between respect and happiness? Or found that money or new things only make you happy in the short term? What are you grateful for? Let's discuss!