According to research, people who put their sense of self-worth on how much money they make often feel lonely in their daily lives. The University of Buffalo and Harvard Business School have done a new study that starts to look into why this link exists.
“When people base their sense of self-worth on money, they feel pressured and unable to make their own decisions, which leads to bad social outcomes,” says Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo.
Why Money Can’t Buy Love or Friendship
Deborah Ward, a graduate student and adjunct faculty member in the psychology department at the University at Buffalo, says, “Feeling pressure to reach financial goals means we’re working hard at the expense of spending time with loved ones. And it’s that lack of time spent with people close to us that’s linked to feeling lonely and disconnected.”
A team led by Deborah included Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, Kristin Naragon-Gainey, from the University of Western Australia, and Han Young Jung, who used to be a graduate student at the University of Buffalo.
The study’s results were published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. They show how important personal relationships and social networks are for mental health and why people should keep those connections, even when things get hard or when they’re trying to reach big goals.
“Isolation is linked to depression and anxiety, and we can see this now with how hard it is to get in touch with friends during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Ward.
“These relationships are important. As people, we need them to feel safe, mentally healthy, and happy. That being said, a lot of what it takes to be successful in business means missing out on time with family and friends.
Ward says that these relationships aren’t caused by their desire for money or their success in making money. The idea that psychologists call the “financial contingency of self-worth” is at the heart of this study.
When money affects how much we value ourselves, we see our financial success as connected to the core of who we are. How successful someone is financially is related to how they feel about themselves. People feel good about themselves when they think they’re doing well financially and worthless when they think they aren’t.
More than 2,500 people took part in five studies that looked for links between not having enough money and self-worth and some important factors, like how much time you spend with others, being lonely, and not being connected with other people.
The subjects were tracked daily for two weeks as part of a study that looked at how they felt over time about how important money and time spent doing different social activities were to them.
According to Ward, “we saw consistent associations between valuing money in terms of who you are and having bad social outcomes in previous work. This made us wonder why these associations are present.”
These results show that people who put their sense of self-worth on money are more likely to feel pressured to be financially successful, which is linked to how well they get along with others.
Ward also says that this study is the start of a much bigger project to figure out how financial security and self-worth work.
Ward says, “I hope this is the start of a longer line of research that looks at how valuing money affects things that have to do with society.” “There’s no clear answer yet, but there’s a lot of evidence that pressure is a big part of it.”