Can money buy happiness?

People with a higher income may feel more satisfied with life, but this satisfaction doesn’t necessarily translate into happiness, according to a new global study.

The worldwide survey, which included questions about happiness and income, involved more than 136,000 people in 132 countries. Not unlike previous studies, the findings indicated that life satisfaction does indeed rise with personal and national income. Positive feelings, however — which also increase somewhat as income rises — are more strongly associated with other factors.

It is the first ‘happiness study’ of the world to differentiate between satisfaction with life and the philosophical belief that life is going well, with the positive or negative feelings a person experiences on a daily basis, according to study leader Ed Diener, University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology and a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization.

“Everybody has been looking at just life satisfaction and income,” he said in a news release. “And while it is true that getting richer will make you more satisfied with your life, it may not have the big impact we thought on enjoying life.”

So what factors are important when it comes to actually enjoying your life? The study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that positive feelings are strongly associated with feeling respected, having autonomy and social support, and working at a fulfilling job.

In other words, the findings support what many people have suspected all along: that the relationship between wealth and happiness is not as straight forward as all that. Having a healthy bank account certainly matters — but on its own may not make us truly happy.

World’s top 15 happiest countries

For the Gallup World Poll, respondents were asked to rate their lives on a scale from zero (worst possible) to 10 (best possible) and to answer a series of questions on positive or negative emotions.

So based on these findings, what are the world’s happiest countries?

Denmark and Finland top the list with a score of 7.7. They are followed by Norway, The Netherlands and Costa Rica (7.6), Canada and Switzerland (7.5), New Zealand (7.4), Sweden, Austria and Australia (7.3), United States (7.2), Belgium (7.1), Brazil and Panama (7.0).

The findings are from an analysis of data gathered in the first Gallup World Poll. According to researchers, the countries surveyed represent about 96 percent of the world’s population and reflect the diversity of cultural, economic and political realities around the globe. (Find out more.)