Freedom More Important to Happiness Than Wealth, Study Finds

Personal independence, autonomy trump money in data from more than 60 countries

SUNDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) -- Personal independence and freedom are more important to people's well-being than wealth, a new study concludes.

Researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand analyzed the findings of three studies that included a total of more than 420,000 people from 63 countries and spanned nearly 40 years.

Their key finding: "Money leads to autonomy, but it does not add to well-being or happiness."

The studies looked at data from three different psychological tests familiar to therapists:

  • The General Health Questionnaire, which measures distress in terms of anxiety and insomnia, social problems, severe depression and physical symptoms of mental distress, such as unexplained headaches and stomach aches.
  • The Spielberger anxiety inventory, which evaluates how anxious respondents feel at a particular moment.
  • The Maslach Burnout Inventory, which screens for emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of personal accomplishment.

The analysis revealed "a very consistent and robust finding that societal values of [freedom and autonomy] were the best predictors of well-being," wrote psychologists Ronald Fischer and Diana Boer in an American Psychological Association release.

"Furthermore, if wealth was a significant predictor alone, this effect disappeared when individualism was entered," they added.

"Our findings provide insight into well-being at the societal level," the researchers concluded.

The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

More information

Mental Health American outlines ways to live your life well.

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