Study Suggests We’d Rather Work More Than Be Happy

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A study published in the Psychological Science journal suggests that many Americans are obsessed with accumulating wealth, even if it's more than they can spend.

Ever heard the phrase “work hard, play hard”? Sounds good, but what happens when you work so hard that you have time for nothing else.

Americans seem to be wired that way — choosing to work more even when they don’t have to — prompting a group of researchers to do a study. Says their abstract in Psychological Science: “[W]e found that individuals do overearn, even at the cost of happiness, and that overearning is a result of mindless accumulation — a tendency to work and earn until feeling tired rather than until having enough.”

The research “shows a deeply rooted instinct to earn more than can possibly be consumed, even when this imbalance makes us unhappy,” says The New York Times.

Simply put, the research went like this: The subjects were given a choice of listening to pleasant music or white noise. They were told they could earn a certain number of chocolates by listening to the noise. Some were “high earners,” having to listen to less noise to earn a chocolate, the Times says.

They were also told they’d have a certain amount of time to eat the chocolates after the test and were asked to estimate how much they could eat in that time. The high earners on average said they’d have time to eat 3.75 chocolates, but they listened to enough noise to earn 10.74.

“In other words, they subjected themselves to harsh noise to earn more than they could consume, or predicted they could consume,” the Times says.

The same tendency was found among the “low earners.” It was clear “that both groups were driven by the same thing: not by how much they need, but by how much work they could withstand,” the Times said.

Is it a hopeless situation? The abstract also says the study found that “prompting individuals to consider the consequences of their earnings or denying them excessive earnings can disrupt mindless accumulation and enhance happiness.”

Do you think Americans are like that? Are you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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