Though the popular conception has been that "money can't buy happiness," studies have shown that wealth can play a role in enhancing happiness.    A study of American woman by a Princeton University psychologist says money doesn't buy happiness - not caring about having no money apparently makes the difference.

Women who concentrated on financial matters were less likely to be happy with their lives, according to Talya Miron-Shatz, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, even though they had plenty of money by conventional standards.

Conversely, those who didn't fixate on finances like retirement savings, tuition for college or simply making ends meet, reported being the happiest of the group.

Perhaps they have discovered the time-honored 'marry someone rich' strategy.

"Even if you are making a hundred grand a year, if you are constantly worried that you are going to get fired, that you are going to lose your health insurance or that you are simply not sure you are going to 'make it,' you are not going to be happy," Miron-Shatz said. Such concerns, she found, affected a wide variety of women at all income levels.

Miron-Shatz says her study will help the government spend all the new money they are printing by encouraging them to focus on financial "safety nets" for women rather than bourgeois concerns like letting people keep more of what they earn or not mandating mortgages to homeless people.

To understand how income and concerns over financial security may relate to a person's satisfaction with life, Miron-Shatz conducted two separate studies of a representative sample of nearly 1,000 American women of various ages and incomes. In one study, she found that considerations of financial security were as important to the study subjects as their monetary assets.  

She asked subjects in the second study to think about the future in an open-ended manner. Those who did so and mentioned financial concerns -- retirement, college tuition, making ends meet, etc. -- were less satisfied with their lives, she found, than those who did not raise such concerns. One of her participants said that when thinking of her future she wondered, "Will I be happy and financially stable?"

The stability, Miron-Shatz says, is crucial. "It's not about greed," she added. "It's about knowing whatever it is you have, be it your McMansion or your motor home, won't be taken away from you."

Discussions about wealth need to be expanded to include this notion of financial security, she said, and though valid and meaningful, this factor is "glaringly missing from economic discussions," she said in her paper's introduction. 

The problem is what Princeton Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has called the "satisfaction treadmill." In studies of human happiness, Kahneman, the Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Psychology, has found that satisfaction does not necessarily increase in a corresponding amount with an improved financial status. Miron-Shatz is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Kahneman and her paper grew out of her work with Kahneman, who is her adviser.   Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economic sciences. 

The study was published  in Judgment and Decision Making.