Salary or sleep - what makes us happy?

by 25 Oct 2011

A new study from Cornell University has asked whether people would prefer a highly paid job that demanded very long hours, or better work-life balance but with less pay.

The study asked more than 2,600 people to consider whether being paid US$150,000 with long hours (just six hours' sleep) would make them happier than an US$80,000 job that allowed them 7.5 hours sleep. Not surprisingly, given the sizeable income difference in the proposition, the majority of respondents chose to take the extra money/less sleep.

"On average, there are systematic differences between what people choose and what people think would make them happier," the author said. "For example, people are more likely to choose the higher-income/lower-sleep job even when they don't think it will make them happier."

The authors "wanted to see if people were trying to be as happy as possible."

However, critics of the study have claimed a more feasible approach would be to study what the responses would be if the choices were slightly more realistic. For instance, would an extra few $1,000 per year be enough for people to trade in their sleep?

The study follows comments made by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman last year that all people need is US$75,000 a year, over which any extra money adds nothing to a personal perception of happiness.

When the New York Times interviewed Kahneman about the study, he said "it's not so much that money buys you happiness, but the lack of money buys you misery".

PricewaterhouseCoopers added to the debate last year by suggesting that employees would forgo their bonuses in return for more flexible working arrangements.


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