Would you prefer salary or sleep?

When I was growing up there was a popular advert for chips that featured a young girl who was asked by her older sister whether she preferred Daddy or chips. It’s probably indicative of the power of advertising that I now think of that advert whenever such comparisons are made. The comparison in question here, however, is one of slightly more importance. You see, a new study from Cornell University is asking whether people would prefer a highly paid job that demanded very long hours, or better work/life balance but with less pay.

This topic is not a new one. Indeed Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman suggested only last year that all we really need is $75,000 a year, over which any extra money adds nothing to our perception of happiness.

When The New York Times spoke with Kahneman about the study, he said “it’s not so much that money buys you happiness, but that lack of money buys you misery.”

So the Cornell paper goes against a pretty powerful opponent, with others such as Dan Pink also proposing that money comes quite a way down the list of things that motivate us. PricewaterhouseCooper added to the mix last year by suggesting that people would forgo their bonuses in return for more flexible working.

Let’s investigate the Cornell study

They asked more than 2,600 people to consider whether being paid $150,000 with long hours (just 6 hours sleep) would make them happier than an $80,000 job that allowed them 7.5 hours sleep. Framed in that way it’s perhaps not surprising that people would gladly trade $70,000 extra per year for an hours less sleep per night.

“On average, there are systematic differences between what people choose and what people think would make them happier,” the author says. “For example, people are more likely to choose the higher-income/lower-sleep job even when they don’t think it will make them happier.” The authors “wanted to see if people were trying to be as happy as possible.”

It would be interesting to see what the responses would be, however, if the choices were slightly more realistic. For instance would an extra few thousand per year be enough for people to trade in their beauty sleep?

Ask yourself, how important is salary to your own happiness?

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