AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
While wealth can buy many things to enhance our quality of life, research suggests that there is no strong direct link between money and personal happiness.
So what makes people happy? Drawing on data from the Institute's Australian Living Standards Study, this article examines how income and other factors -- including family life and occupational status -- combine to influence parents' satisfaction with their lives.
Although a myriad of factors may contribute to judgements of quality of life, the achievement of a sense of wellbeing (or happiness or life satisfaction) is a central component. As Headey, Holmstrom and Wearing (1984) pointed out, a basic assumption underlying research into quality of life is that human beings are motivated to seek a sense of wellbeing and to avoid distress.
The adage, `one person's cup is another's poison' suggests that happiness or unhappiness cannot be inferred on the basis of objective circumstances alone. Personal interpretation of circumstances appears to be a crucial factor. Furthermore, the goals and commitments people hold -- the things that matter to them -- are vital factors affecting the way they interpret their circumstances (Lazarus and Folkman 1984).
Although many goals are idiosyncratic, the ability to control one's life seems to be highly valued by most people. Indeed, some authors have argued that `losing control' is one of the life's greatest fears (Shapiro, Schwartz and Astin 1996). Striving for control over one's environment appears to be important to evolutionary survival. It begins in infancy, and continues throughout life for most people (Schulz 1975). It is thus not surprising that mastery over one's life represents a key concern in some assessments of quality of life. Studies in Sweden have focused on the identification of resources required for such mastery (Johansson 1973).
The possession of a sense of mastery is thus likely to be a strong contributor to happiness. Sense of mastery (or self-efficacy, locus of control, confidence) is frequently treated as a more or less stable personality disposition or generalised belief or outlook on life that affects appraisal of circumstances, stress/wellbeing, coping behaviour and so on (Headey, Holmstrom and Wearing 1984; Lazarus and Folkman 1984). Lazarus and Folkman (1984) maintained that those with a strong sense of mastery are more likely than other people to feel challenged rather than threatened by some of the difficult situations confronting them.
In addition to sense of mastery, matters pertaining to financial resources, work (paid or unpaid), and family life are likely to feature strongly in personal commitments that affect wellbeing. Together, these three domains of life tend to determine our general lifestyle, although not all areas may contribute as strongly to sense of wellbeing as might be expected. Not surprisingly, a great deal of research has already been undertaken into the relevance of these domains of life for sense of wellbeing.
Many studies suggest that, in wealthy nations, income is only weakly related to subjective wellbeing (Diener, Diener and Diener 1995; Veenhoven 1996). This finding has received considerable attention in the literature, for wealth can buy many things affecting our quality of life, including good housing and other material possessions, status, power, freedom, and travel. Nevertheless, the financial losses that follow decisions to have children show that non-economic issues are often more important to people. Few of us are pure `economic rationalists'.
Employment status and occupational circumstances such as `blue collar' versus `white collar' are commonly used indices of socio-economic status which carry implications for numerous aspects of life, including financial circumstances, values, interests, social networks, sex-role patterns, socialisation of children, adoption of health risk behaviours, and health status (Langman 1986; Powles and Salzberg 1989). Occupational status also has implications for mastery over one's work role, with mastery increasing with increasing status (Morehead et al. 1997; Bosma, Stansfeld and Marmot, 1998). Research focusing on British Civil Servants suggests that level of control in one's work role (for example, skill discretion, decision authority) is a key factor explaining the negative relationship between socio-economic status and both cardiovascular disease as well as depression (Stansfeld, Head and Marmot 1998; Bosma, …