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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 00:05 GMT
'Money can't buy happiness'
Group of smiling young women
A sense of self-esteem is vital for happiness
Money can't buy happiness - it's official.

A new study by American psychologists has found that cash and popularity do not bring nirvana.

Experts say that excessive wealth, particularly for people unaccustomed to it, such as lottery winners, can actually cause unhappiness.

But autonomy, competence in what you do, a sense of closeness with others and self-esteem, do bring a well rounded state.

Dr Kennon Sheldon, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, said these psychological needs could now be targetted to bring happiness.

There is evidence that there are very wealthy people who are very unhappy

Diana Pidwell, community and clinical psychologist

"Psychological needs can be targeted to enhance personal thriving, in the same way that the organic needs of plants, once identified, can be targeted to maximise thriving in the plant," he said.

Dr Sheldon and his colleagues took three different groups of students, including one from South Korea, to study happiness levels.

Most satisfying moments

He asked the first group to identify what had been the single most satisfying event they had experienced during the last month.

The second group were told to look at the most satisfying event of the past week.

And the last group of students were asked to describe their most unsatisfactory event of the whole university term.

The research, published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the three groups returned fairly similar results.

The students also listed a lack of security as something that profoundly affected their stability.

"It appears that when things go wrong, people may strongly wish for the safety and predictability that they often take for granted," said Dr Sheldon's team.

For the American students, self-esteem was top of their list. For the South Koreans it was a sense of closeness.

The researchers hope to extend their study "to help individuals find conducive social and vocational niches and to motivate them to develop their skills further within those niches".

Money or happiness

Diana Pidwell, a community and clinical psychologist at Blackpool Wyre and Fyde Community NHS Trust and a member of the British Psychological Society, agreed that money cannot buy happiness.

She said: "Many studies have been done on the importance, or otherwise, of money and what seems to be the consensus is that once you have the basic level then after that it does not make any difference to happiness.

"There is evidence that there are very wealthy people who are very unhappy. Particularly people who were not born to wealth like lottery winners.

"Happiness is a state of mind."

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30 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
'Worrying' mental health in deprived area
02 May 00 | Americas
The happiest people in the world
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