The world’s longest-running study on human happiness finally answered the question of whether or not money could buy you happiness – and the answer is a resounding no.

At least, according to March Schulz and Robert Waldinger, that’s the simple answer. The more complicated answer is that money does play a role in affecting our individual and societal satisfaction, particularly where our basic needs and responsibilities are concerned. 

Schulz and Waldinger’s new book The Good Life takes its substance from the Harvard Study of Adult Development which, since 1938, stands as the world’s longest-running study on happiness.

A Means to an End

For Schulz, currently a professor of psychology at Pennsylvania Ivy League school Bryn Mawr College, money is simply a means to an end: a tool that can ensure the safety and security of ourselves and our families, as well as a way of giving ourselves a sense of control. 

Indeed, many financial experts agree with the notion and suggest that money should not be treated as the end goal of existence but as one of many tools that can ensure we live a meaningful existence.

Achievement Isn’t Really the Answer

Likewise, the way society sees achievement as a way to solve all of one’s issues is seen as fallacious thinking.

Based on the Harvard study’s findings, participants who held higher-level positions at work earned much coveted academic or professional titles or had more money and material assets than most were no happier in their lives than those in less exalted circumstances.

The study also noted that those who believed they would be satisfied if they made material gains their end goal essentially drove their happiness well out of reach. As Schulz puts it, they are so caught up in their drive toward achievement that life passes them by.

Schulz added that the accumulation of material belongings does nothing to increase one’s happiness. Instead, he recommended that people should use their money to share experiences with those around them like vacations or dinners out with family and friends. By doing so, one’s money will give them better returns when it comes to happiness.

What Exactly is the Harvard Study?

Since 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which is currently under Waldinger’s leadership, has delved into the lives of Harvard alumni (and now 1,300 of their descendants) from the 1940s to determine the factors behind successful and, more importantly, satisfying lives. 

Also considered the most comprehensive study conducted to determine the factors behind human happiness, it operates by periodically checking in with respondents and their families to see where they are now in life by way of reflection and self-evaluation.