Respect brings more happiness than money, study shows

By Meg McCabe

Money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact, a recent study by U. California-Berkeley researchers finds that respect actually impacts happiness more than economic circumstances.

The study — published by Haas School of Business Associate Professor Cameron Anderson on June 20 in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science — attempts to determine the effect of monetary circumstances and social standing on general happiness for a total of 787 participants from diverse backgrounds.

“It’s just that you have to look at the right form of status,” Anderson said. “Respect and admiration in the eyes of others around you, or your sociometric status, matters a great deal, even if income or wealth does not.”

Anderson also studied the relationship between the respect subjects in the study received and their general happiness, to find out if respect directly influenced happiness.  The results of the study showed that sociometric status — the amount of respect, prominence, and admiration a person has in their social group — is much more important than socioeconomic status in determining happiness for an individual.

According to Anderson, the study was conducted by observing different groups including campus ROTC, fraternities, sororities, student clubs, MBA students and a national sample of adults using an on-line recruitment system. Anderson said that he used “peer-ratings of status, ‘objective’ indicators such as whether (subjects) had occupied positions of authority, as well as self-reports.”

Anderson then looked at the link between these results and the self-reported happiness of each participant.

2011 UC Berkeley graduate and former President of Delta Phi Epsilon, a campus co-ed foreign service fraternity, Caity Knowlton said that respect is more relevant to happiness than money is “perhaps because of the tight knit bonds we form in college, particularly in professional fraternities, and the pressure to be successful and a respectable member of the community.”

Beyond student life, respect also plays an integral role in the professional world, according to the study.

Don Moore, also an associate professor at Haas, said that in terms of business, and more specifically in terms of employee motivation in the workplace, money is not always the best incentive.

“The most important thing that business executives want to know when they come to Haas, is how to motivate their employees,” he said. “Money comes with problems, (and it) does not provide lasting satisfaction.”

Anderson said he hopes to continue his research, focusing specifically on the theory that sociometric status is more important to happiness than socioeconomic status, because people adapt to socioeconomic status, but they do not adapt to sociometric status.

He also said that people may never become accustomed to being respected, although they can get used to how much money they have.

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