Beauty is the path to happiness—by way of money. A new series of studies shows that attractive people earn more money and marry better-looking spouses, and that the economic benefits of being good looking make them happier than their homely counterparts. Logically, you’d think that efforts to improve one’s appearance would somehow lead to more happiness. But researchers say makeup, designer clothing, and plastic surgery aren’t the answers.
Economists at the University of Texas-Austin, led by Daniel Hamermesh, are fascinated with beautiful people. Guess that doesn’t make them unique. What’s special is that these economists have been analyzing years of surveys to determine correlations between appearance, income, and happiness. In early studies, Hamermesh and his team have pointed out that more attractive people tend to make more money and pair off with more attractive spouses.
Now, researchers have reached the conclusion that beautiful people are happier, and a big reason why they’re happier is that they have more money:
“Personal beauty raises happiness,” says Hamermesh. “The majority of beauty’s effect on happiness works through its impact on economic outcomes.”
Beauty affects women’s happiness more than men’s, researchers say, and Hamermesh explained why that’s so to USA Today:
“For a woman, it just matters to walk down the street being good-looking. It hurts to walk down the street being bad-looking,” Hamermesh says. “For a man, beauty’s direct relation to happiness is not as great. It will give you a better-looking wife, a higher-earning wife and — most important — extra earnings.”
Another fairly well-proven path for a man to get a better-looking wife is to be rich—which, presumably, will then lead to happiness. So which comes first: wealth or happiness? Or beauty? At some point, this could become a chicken-egg discussion.
What’s puzzling is that other studies show that the traditional rewards of being rich—buying lots of stuff—don’t make people happy, and that happiness is something that more often comes with growing older, not growing richer. Researchers who study the super rich have also revealed that serious problems and stresses come with having too much money.
Putting the ultra-wealthy aside, though, there seems to be a consensus among researchers that it’s better to be rich and beautiful. Well, duh.
Should one strive to make more money and improve one’s appearance? As for the latter, Hamermesh said to USA Today:
“I know all the cosmetics folks and clothes folks say they can make you prettier, but the evidence for it just isn’t there,” he says, citing a 2002 study he conducted that looked at the effect of buying better clothes, hair and cosmetics.
“It doesn’t help much. … Your beauty is determined to a tremendous extent by the shape of your face, by its symmetry and how everything hangs together.”
I like that somewhat icky phrase: Isn’t your overall quality of life—family, money, friends, career, interests, and so on—determined by “how everything hangs together”?
Ultimately, it’s the people who obsess about their personal wealth and/or attractiveness that are less happy.