Social Class May Affect Types of Happiness People Experience

A young couple admires a necklace through the shop window.Money might not buy happiness, but social class does influence the types of pleasure a person experiences, according to a study published in the journal Emotion.

How Social Class Affects Happiness

The study used a nationally representative sample of 1,519 people ranging in age from 24-93 years old. Researchers used income levels to determine participants’ social class. While other factors, such as social capital or professional networks, also influence class, income most directly reflected participants’ access to resources.

Participants completed surveys about their experience of seven emotions associated with happiness. These included awe, compassion, amusement, contentment, love, enthusiasm, and pride. For example, the surveys asked participants how much they agreed with statements like, “Many things are funny to me.”

The results suggest that people across income levels experience a range of positive emotions. Yet the frequency of certain feelings varied with social class. Top earners experienced more self-oriented positive emotions, such as pride, contentment, and amusement. The lowest earners reported more other-oriented emotions, including awe, love, and compassion. The groups recorded similar levels of enthusiasm.

The study’s authors point out that different resources affect a person’s environment. This can also affect their priorities. Greater material resources typically mean more autonomy, which increases access to individualistic emotions like pride. Meanwhile, people with less resources often experience more risk from their environments. Community-minded emotions like compassion may help lower earners band together to solve problems.

Other Research on Money and Happiness

A 2010 analysis by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton showed the effects of money on happiness. It found daily happiness increased with income until income was sufficient to meet basic needs and purchase a few luxuries. Afterwards, more money didn’t mean more happiness.

According to the study, the ideal household income for optimal happiness is $75,000. (A report in Advisor Perspectives says this number is still likely accurate despite inflation.) $75,000 is a national average that varies depending on the local cost of living. For the most expensive neighborhoods in Manhattan, optimal happiness can cost as much as of $162,500.


  1. Can money buy happiness? A new study investigates. (2017, December 26). Observer. Retrieved from
  2. Happiness revisited: A household income of $75k? (2016, October 21). Advisor Perspectives. Retrieved from
  3. Piff, P. K., & Moskowitz, J. P. (2017, December 18). Wealth, poverty, and happiness: Social class is differentially associated with positive emotions. Emotion. doi:10.1037/emo0000387

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  • Daniel

    January 11th, 2018 at 2:02 PM

    Finally someone said it. Money can’t buy feelings, but it can buy a better apartment, and I feel a lot happier when roaches aren’t eating my chips.

  • Kima

    January 11th, 2018 at 3:44 PM

    Poverty just applies this baseline level of stress that makes everything a little bit harder. I can see how it would make it hard to feel positively about yourself when you constantly feel inadequate or like even you put in everything you have you can just barely scrape by.

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