A new study is reiterating what we really shouldn’t need science to tell us by now: money truly can’t buy happiness.
While wanting to make money itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can quickly become toxic when people tie their self-worth to that pursuit, according to a newly published paper by a University of Buffalo research team.
Working with 349 college students and a nationally representative group of 389 participants, researchers first created a scale to measure how much people based their self-esteem on financial success. They then conducted a series of experiments to determine of impact of threatening participants’ sense of financial security.
"When we asked people to write about a financial stressor, they experienced a drop in their feelings of autonomy," said lead author Lora Park.
"They also showed more disengagement from their financial problems - they gave up searching for solutions. We didn't find this in people who didn't tie their self-esteem to financial success or among those who were asked to write about an academic stressor."
The researchers also coded the types of language participants used in their essays when discussing their financial issues.
"We found that people who highly based their self-worth on financial success used more negative emotion-related words, like sadness and anger," said Park. "This demonstrates that just thinking about a financial problem generates a lot of stress and negative emotions for these individuals."
In a nutshell, basing one’s self-esteem on financial success predicted feeling less control over one's life, as well as enduring more financial stress and anxiety.
"People don't often think of the possible down sides of wrapping their identity and self-worth around financial pursuits, because our society values wealth as a model of how one should be in the world," said Park.
"It's important to realize these costs because people are gravitating toward this domain as a source of self-esteem without realizing that it has these unintended consequences."
Park's paper, published in the latest issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also found that this negative effect was squashed when people were given the opportunity to self-affirm by thinking about their personal strengths.
"This suggests that self-esteem concerns emerge when people are thinking about financial problems, but if you can repair their self-esteem by having them think about their strengths, then there is no reduction in feelings of autonomy."
In other words, listen good and hard to the sage words of Jennifer Lopez: love don’t cost a thing – and it will probably make you feel a lot better about yourself than that swanky new Rolex will.
h/t Science Daily