Poor but happy? Income, happiness, and experienced and expected meaning in life

Sarah J. Ward, Laura A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three studies demonstrate that income is positively associated with meaning in life (MIL) and that this relationship is moderated by positive affect (PA). Moreover, people’s forecasts about these associations resemble the actual data. Study 1 (N = 1,666) used a nationally representative sample to demonstrate that PA moderates the effect of income on MIL. At high levels of PA, income was unrelated to MIL, but at low PA, income was positively associated with MIL. Study 2 (N = 203) provided experimental support for the interaction between income and PA interaction using a PA induction. Although income predicted MIL in the control condition, it was unrelated to MIL following a PA induction. Study 3 (N = 277) demonstrated that people forecast their future lives will be more meaningful if they are wealthy versus poor, which was especially true among people who expect to be unhappy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-470
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective forecasting
  • Income
  • Meaning in life
  • Positive affect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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