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Financial Success and the Good Life: What have We Learned from Empirical Studies in Psychology?

Section: Philosophical Foundations


An empirical study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (King, L. A. and C. K. Nappa: 1998, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75(1), 156–165) concludes that people generally believe meaning and happiness are essential elements of the good life, whereas money is relatively unimportant. Yet, the authors also state that although “we do know what it takes to make a good life...we still behave as if we did not.” The authors are suggesting that despite a general belief that money is relatively unimportant in creating happiness, many people continue to focus their behaviors on increasing income and wealth. This is the classic conflict between the folk wisdom that money cannot buy happiness, on the one hand, and a continued focus by many people on achieving material success on the other. The issue is of particular importance to business professionals, not only because profit maximization is the central focus of business, but also because college students often pursue business as a profession for the express purpose of maximizing personal income and wealth. In the business world a focus on personal financial success is the norm. Wealth and income are honored. The purpose of this article is to critically analyze psychological studies comparing happiness and financial success. The results are then contrasted with philosophical wisdom and religious writings comparing happiness and money. The intent is to determine whether psychological studies provide incremental insights into the connection between financial success and happiness.

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Correspondence to Kent Swift.

Additional information

Kent Swift PhD, is a professor in the College of Business Sciences at Zayed University. He has been teaching business at both the undergraduate and graduate level in science 1978, and he has published articles on a variety of business topics. Dr. Swift received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

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Swift, K. Financial Success and the Good Life: What have We Learned from Empirical Studies in Psychology?. J Bus Ethics 75, 191–199 (2007).

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  • financial success
  • happiness
  • materialism
  • well-being