Happiness Blog: Can money buy you happiness in Tucson?

2013-09-25T13:37:00Z 2013-10-09T09:43:50Z Happiness Blog: Can money buy you happiness in Tucson?Lydia Breunig Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Thanks to all of you who have responded to our question, "What about Tucson makes you happy?"  We love seeing the results in the Arizona Daily Star’s happiness word grid…everything from good restaurants to the smell of desert rain.  Most responses are either free (the weather, mountains, friends) or pretty darn inexpensive (Sonoran hot dogs, Eegees).  Clearly, there is a lot making us happy here in Tucson that doesn't cost a lot of money.

Your responses raise more questions that relate to income and happiness.  Here is the context: Tucson median household income is $37,448 (from 2007-2011) while the U.S. median household income is $51,017 (according to Census data).  

An often-cited 2010 study by Princeton researchers of places the optimal household income for day-to-day happiness at around $75,000 in the U.S.  

The search for an optimal income for happiness assumes there is a "happiness plateau," meaning that money can buy happiness, but only up to a point.  After that threshold is reached, money no longer adds to overall happiness (and in the case of some lottery winners, can significantly reduce happiness). This theory could also explain why, although income per person has risen steadily in the United States over the past 40 years or so, the average reported happiness has not (see graph above).

If there is such a thing as a happiness plateau (which is hotly debated by economists), one possible implication for government policy is said to be that, once basic needs are met, policy should focus not on economic growth (measured nationally by GDP and other economic indicators), but rather on increasing life satisfaction (measured, for example, by Gross National Happiness).

What does this mean for Tucson?  Your responses to our question, “makes about Tucson makes you happy” indicate that there is more to our community than what income statistics might reflect.  Do the benefits of life in Tucson outweigh our relatively low income? In addition to income, what else should we be measuring to get an accurate picture of our community's well-being and happiness?  What do you think is the optimal income for maximum day-to-day happiness in Tucson?

Please keep your comments coming. 

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About this blog

"Happiness Tucson" shares research from the social and behavioral sciences on happiness and relates it to Tucson. It is facilitated by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, one of the largest colleges at the UA with approximately 6,000 majors in 20 different departments including sociology, communication, political science, anthropology, and history — among others.

The social and behavioral sciences are dedicated to understanding people and their connections — with each other, the world around them, and their pasts — and using that knowledge to help make communities healthier and more vibrant.

The UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is on the UA campus in the Douglass Building. Please visit the college's website or find it on Facebook. To make suggestions for topics for this blog or to get more information, email downtownlectures@email.arizona.edu

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