Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 191–199 | Cite as

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

Section: Philosophical Foundations
  • Kent Swift


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.


financial success happiness materialism well-being 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aristotle (revised edition): 2004, ‹Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics’ (J.A.K Thomson translator), Penguin Books, London.Google Scholar
  2. Burke R. J., MacDermid G. (1999) Are Workaholics Job Satisfied and Successful in Their Careers?. Career Development International 4(5):277–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dalai Lama: 2005, The Essential Dalai Lama (R Mehrotra editor). Hodder & Stoughton, London.Google Scholar
  4. Diener E., Suh E. M., Lucas R. E., Smith H. L. (1999) Subjective Well-Being: Three Decades of Progress. Psychological Bulletin 125(2):276–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dostoyevsky, F.: 1958, ‹The Brothers Karamazov’ (C. Garnett Trans.), (Penguin Putnam, New York).Google Scholar
  6. Fromm, E.: 1976, ‹To Have or to be’?(Harper & Row, New York).Google Scholar
  7. Funk R. (eds) (1995) The Essential Fromm: Life Between Having and Being. Continuum Publishing Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Gibran K. (1923) The Prophet. Knopf, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. History of Philosophy: 2006, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved January 19, 2006, from Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service http://www.britannica. com/eb/article-8579Google Scholar
  10. Hughes G. J. (2001) Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Aristotle on Ethics. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Kasser T., Ryan R. M. (1993) A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65(2):410–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Keyes C. L. M., Ryff C. D., Shmotkin D. (2002) Optimizing Well-Being: The Empirical Encounter of Two Traditions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82(6):1007–1022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Killinger B. (1991) Workaholics. Firefly Books, Buffalo, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. King L. A., Napa C. K. (1998) What Makes a Life Good?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75(1):156–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lao-tzu: 1961, ‹Tao teh Ching’ (John C.H. Wu Trans.), (Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston).Google Scholar
  16. Maslow A. H. (1954) Motivation and Personality. Harper & Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Nietzsche F.: 1954, “The Portable Nietzsche” (W. Kaufmann editor and translator) (Viking Penguin Inc., New York).Google Scholar
  18. Robinson B. E. (1998) Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them. New York University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Rogers, C.: 1961, On Becoming a Person (Houghton Miffin, Boston)Google Scholar
  20. Rogers, C.: 1963, ‹The Actualizing Tendency in Relation to ‹Motives’ and to Consciousness’ Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, in M. R. Jones (ed.) University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 11, 1–24.Google Scholar
  21. Ryan R. M., Deci E. L. (2001) On Happiness and Human Potential: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being. Annual Review of Psychology 52:141–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ryff C. D. (1989) Happiness is Everything, or Is It? Explorations on the Meaning of Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57(6):1069–1081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Solberg E. G, Diener E., Robinson M. D. (2004) Why are Materialists Less Satisfied?. In: Kasser T., Kanner A. D. (eds), Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World. American Psychological Association, Washington DC, pp 29–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Solomon, S., J. Greenberg, and T. A. Pyszczynski: 2004, `Lethal Consumption: Death-Denying Materialism', in T. Kasser and A. D. Kanner (eds.), Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistics world (American Psycological Association, Washington DC), pp 127–146Google Scholar
  25. Srivastava A., Locke E. A., Bartol K. M. (2001) Money and Subjective Well-Being: It’s Not the Money, It’s the Motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80(6):959–971CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Waterman A. S. (1993) Two Conceptions of Happiness: Contrasts of Personal Expressiveness (Eudaimonia) and Hedonic Enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64(4):678–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Zimmer H. (1951) Philosophies of India. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Business SciencesZayed UniversityDubaiUnited Arab Emirates

Personalised recommendations