Many of us wonder, “Would I be happier if I won the lottery or were rich?” Others ask, “Do wealthy people live longer?”  The questions are straight-forward, but the answers are complex.

A popular proverb in my hard-working Iowa farm community is, “You don’t need money to be happy or live long, but it helps.”  Research evidence says this axiom is right, but with many qualifications.  

Most sociological and economic studies indicate persons in the upper socioeconomic strata (SES) rate themselves higher on research scales that measure happiness and they live longer on average than those of lower SES.  

Yet, many of the happiest societies are those of modest means.   Media articles often depict the oldest persons in the world as leading simple and sometimes impoverished lives.

Health, wealth and happiness are positively correlated.  Healthy people are wealthier because they usually are able to work harder, longer, and have more time to indulge in recuperative activities.  

Conversely, wealthy people are healthier because they can afford better healthcare, optimal lifestyles and may worry less about future challenges.

However, a May 2013 Forbes Magazine article reports that for the U.S., “Happiness levels off at incomes of around $75,000 a year.”  In countries where the Gross Domestic Product is lower than in the U.S., persons who earned substantially less were also happy, as long as they were in the upper echelons of their respective societies.  

Poverty is correlated with many problems in life.  In the U.S. and elsewhere, poor people are lesser educated, have reduced access to healthcare, are more likely to have insufficient nutrition and experience more worries and depression.

Wealth creates problems of a different sort.  Well-to-do people seem to want more and more and are seldom satisfied with their wealth, according to the Forbes Magazine article.  “If there is a satiation point, we are yet to reach it,” say the researchers.

A Brookings Institute report in April 2013 reaches a similar conclusion: “We find no evidence of a satiation point…this finding is robust across a variety of datasets…and it holds in roughly equal measure when making cross-national comparisons between rich and poor countries as when making comparisons between rich and poor people within a country.”

Can it be concluded that wealthy people like the challenge of acquiring even more?

What do the rich do differently than the rest of us?  A recent MSN internet article was worth reading.  

The article offered five observations, all derived from research on lifestyles:

•    The rich eat less junk food
•    The wealthy don’t procrastinate
•    They exercise regularly
•    They keep learning
•    They nurture relationships


Wealthy people almost always perceive themselves as working harder than most people and as more deserving of rewards for their efforts, but nearly all research indicates they work no harder than people in the middle SES.  There is ample evidence that people in the lower SES have to work harder in most countries around the world just to obtain such basic necessities as food, water and shelter.    

What leads to happiness?  If health and wealth are positively associated with happiness but don’t guarantee happiness, what does?

Psychological research indicates that happiness results from feeling useful, loved and committed to larger causes than ourselves.  This would mean economically well-off people feel happiest when they perceive themselves as being valued by the rest of society.  

And those who are not wealthy are happiest when they feel needed and appreciated by those who depend on them.  

Materialism is toxic for happiness, says University of Illinois psychologist, Dr. Ed Diener.  Involving ourselves in worthy causes, also called altruism, is a key to happiness.

I agree with these research findings, based on observations of persons whom I have served as a psychologist and my own experiences.  Giving of ourselves leads to happiness whereas acquiring things for ourselves leads to selfishness.  
Money, fame, power and possessions have little importance if they are only for ourselves.  We seem to never become satiated.


In conclusion, besides doing things other than for self-gain, the five observations on lifestyles of the wealthy noted above are important too and I try to practice them.  I undertake them not to be wealthy but to be healthy physically, psychologically and spiritually.  

I was thinking about these matters when I undertook my annual Medicare evaluation recently.  My internist and her student-physician assistant conducted a thorough 90 minute examination that included drawing samples of blood for laboratory analyses.  

As I left the clinic office I asked the office staff, with whom I am fairly well acquainted, “When the lab results come back, will you let me know if I’m about to die?”

The receptionist responded with a wink, “We’ll call you,” and her assistant chimed in “We’ll get ahold of you one way or another.”

Now that’s a cheery thought!


by Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.

Dr. Rosmann resides on his farm near Harlan, Iowa.  He can be contacted at