Is It Better to have Freedom to Make Choices, or to have Money?

Aug 3, 2016 by Reen Rose

If you want to live a happy life, is it more important to have: a) Freedom of choice b) Money.

If your brain is screaming at you, “The answer is “b” then it’s time to look at some research carried out at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Drs. Ronald Fischer and Diana Boer studied data taken from over 420,000 people from 63 countries spanning 40 years. They were interested in the variables, wealth and individualism (the opportunity to make your own decisions.) Which one was a greater predictor of happiness?

The doctors observed a very consistent and robust finding that individualism was a better predictor of well-being than money. In other words, those people who were given the opportunity to make choices and decisions for themselves consistently ranked their level of happiness as higher than those people who didn’t have this opportunity. By comparison money wasn’t as strong a predictor of how happy the subjects were.

The researchers concluded that if wealth was important to the happiness of these subjects, the effect disappeared when individualism became a factor.

Money isn’t everything when it comes to happiness.

Having autonomy or control over your life is important if you are going to be happy, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing, just like you can have too little.

Too much or too little personal influence will have equally negative effects. You have a comfort zone when it comes to control and personal influence; the size of that zone isn’t the same for everyone, but living in that autonomy comfort zone will definitely increase your feelings of happiness. Living outside it - being micro-managed or just set free to figure it out - are both detrimental to your sense of well-being.

Tips to Increase your Autonomy

  • If you have certain tasks that need to be completed, decide the order you will do them in
  • Make decisions that you are happy with, rather than ones based on guilt and obligation
  • Try a new skill or activity that you have always wanted to try
  • Set yourself a personal goal and work towards attaining it
  • Remember that you have the power to say no

I feel that it is important to qualify this information. Research has shown repeatedly that we need enough money to meet our basic needs – to take it “off the table”, so to speak, but once we reach that point, having more wealth doesn’t make you significantly happier. Having the ability to make choices in your life does.