Money Can Buy Happiness, but Hobbies are Even Better

If you saw his Ted talk, you may already be familiar with Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s research on happiness. Dr. Kahneman and a group of researchers surveyed people across income brackets in a national sample on their overall happiness.

Those who made $90,000 reported being twice as happy as those who made $20,000. However, an interesting thing happens around the $50,000 mark: happiness begins to level off.  There’s little difference between the happiness of people who make between $50,000 – 89,000 and those in the highest income groups (e.g., over $100,000).

A Key to Increased Happiness: Engage in Active Pursuits

Kahneman and colleagues offer an explanation for this trend. They suggest that higher income people, although they work more, spend more free time in active pursuits (e.g., exercise) than passive activities (e.g., watching TV). The researchers suggest the more important key to happiness is how we spend our time off.

From this perspective, money is important so long as it allows us to actively engage what we enjoy. However, once we reach a certain income level (about $50,000 a year or so), we might better spend our time focused on doing fun things than on making more money. As a more concrete example, the researchers suggest we should be working harder to reduce commutes—which people particularly hate—and spend more time in the company of people we enjoy, as people tend to rate the latter particularly high.

Think about this the next time you think about getting a new job or promotion that will earn you more money but may lead to longer hours and a longer commute. Also, consider more carefully how you spend your free time. Is it something active (e.g., exercising, socializing) or passive (e.g., vegging out)?

References

Kahneman, D., Krueger, A.B., Schkade, D., Schwartz, N., & Stone, A.A. (2006). Would You Be

Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion. CEPS Working Paper No. 125.

The Courage to Survive, Thrive, and Tell About It: Marsha Linehan’s Journey

Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. is easily one of the most influential psychologists of the past thirty years. She is a giant in the field. I remember the first time I met her — she seemed  to eclipse the other, also very prominent psychologists who were sitting next to her. Her presence is powerful and imposing. And she has suffered greatly.

Dr. Linehan is the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a cognitive-behavioral therapy that is closely related to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and which is often focused on helping people who are chronically suicidal and self-harming, behaviors with which that many clinicians are often uncomfortable working. I have always had a great deal of respect for her contributions and for her committed service to those who others often shun.  

And yet, while she has dedicated her entire professional life to working with people who are among the most stigmatized in our society, that stigma also silenced Dr. Linehan…until now. For the first time in her life, Dr. Linehan, at age 68, has come out publically (very publically—the front page of the New York Times!)  to talk about her own psychological suffering, including her struggles with suicide and her psychiatric hospitalization.  In this bold and courageous move, Dr. Linehan honors those individuals she has spent her career serving saying, “I have to do this. I owe it to them [the people she serves]. I cannot die a coward”.

Here is a link to the New York Times interview with Dr. Linehan. It is a compelling account of how suffering effects us all, even those like Dr. Linehan who can appear so invincible and larger-than-life.

A personal caveat to the tone of the article:

While I was humbled and moved by Dr. Linehan’s courage to speak out about her struggles in this article, I was also disappointed with some of the tone of the article, which I feel compelled to comment upon. Unfortunately, with statements like “…borderline patients can be terrors” and “…many people with severe mental illness live what appear [italics mine] to be normal, successful lives” the author of the article promotes some of the same stigmatizing stereotypes that have silenced so many, including Dr. Linehan. Instead of implying that people who are severely suffering are abnormal and can only appear to be living a good life, I would argue that suffering, in whatever form it may take, is normal life. People can suffer immensely and live well, as Dr. Linehan has proven. The more that we continue to speak about psychological suffering in ways that imply an “us against them” or “sick versus well” stance, we continue to promote that same stigma that Dr. Linehan has spent her life working against, and living with.