Money can't buy you the good life

But loving relationships can, according to a new study of what people really value

Roger Dobson
Sunday 24 February 2013 01:00 GMT
Close knit: the BBC sitcom My Family, illustrates how relationships, however rocky, are still ‘what makes live worth living’
Close knit: the BBC sitcom My Family, illustrates how relationships, however rocky, are still ‘what makes live worth living’ (BBC)

We don't care too much for money, it seems. According to a new study, the words of the Beatles song appear to be borne out by science, which has found that wealth, celebrity status and power are the lowest priorities on most people's list of what really matters.

Happy families are the key to a good life, accordingly to new research reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Men and women involved in the study were asked to imagine themselves being 85 and near the end, and to rank the 30 things they regarded as important for a good, worthwhile life.

"We focused on conceptions of a good life, or what people think will make their lives worthwhile," said Dr Gregory Bonn, a lecturer in psychology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who led the study. "We asked people to imagine their lives as a completed whole, and to look back and say what was important, and what was not so important. Our results provide compelling evidence that close and enduring relationships are considered central to life satisfaction.

"Real, close relationships are often far from fun: whether it's being married, or raising children, or getting along with close friends and co-workers, all have their own challenges. Over the long run, they include many, many moments that aren't 'fun', but still most of us believe that those relationships are what make life worth living. That should tell us something about human nature."

Having a worthwhile career was rated as more important to a good life than having a successful one. Hobbies or leisure activities that were personally fulfilling were rated as slightly more important than rearing children who were successful.

Gaining wisdom and living a moral life were both in the top 10 requirements for a worthwhile life, and were rated as being more important than being respected.

The lowest-ranked requirement was having had status or celebrity, but that was only slightly behind being religious. Power over other people was third bottom, just behind having many friends. Financial security was rated as more crucial than having amassed wealth, which was rated the fifth least important requirement.

The researchers found that the main requirements for a good life were the same in each of the ethnic groups and cultures that they looked at. "Being connected to other people in desirable ways is of primary importance for all the groups," they found. "Most striking and telling about these results was the degree of similarity or consistency across groups in their preference for close and enduring relationships such as having close friends, having a good marriage or romantic partnership and having a happy family.

"Each of these criteria was rated highly by all groups, suggesting a level of universality in the perception that communion, in the form of close connections to others, is key to the constitution of a satisfying, good, or worthy life."

The finding may suggest that the need for companionship is a biological imperative, said the researchers: "Consistent with this theory, every group we studied saw close and enduring relationships as central to their vision of a good life."

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