How Happy Are Black People? Depends on What’s in Their Wallet

There are strong connections between money and happiness. To understand how happy the Black community is, we must look at income levels.

By Bria Overs

How do you find happiness when the world is on fire? Black people have their ways.

More Black Americans say they are somewhat happy versus being very or not at all happy, according to new research from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank.” However, the divide in happiness is more evident when adding socioeconomic status or class as a factor.

Over half of Black adults considered upper income, bringing in more than $143,400 annually, say they are extremely or very happy these days. Meanwhile, only a quarter who are lower income, making under $47,800, and less than half who are middle income, feel the same.

More — that’s the theme for upper-income Black adults. They are happier, have more time to enjoy life, and find more fulfillment in life experiences and activities. The connections between money and happiness make it so.

“Money 100% can make you happier if you have been in a situation where your needs were not being met,” says Aja Evans, licensed mental health counselor, financial therapist, and forthcoming author. “Where I start to be a little bit skeptical about the happiness and money link is when people assume that because you have money, you are happy. I disagree.”

She adds that a more stable financial situation can lead to greater stability in other aspects of life. But long-term, sustained happiness also depends on factors outside of money.

Finding Black Joy

According to the Pew Research Center, most Black people enjoy spending time with family or friends, actively engaging with church or other religious and spiritual practices, and traveling. Some find their job or career enjoyable, and others like the arts or being out in nature.

However, few Black Americans found fulfillment in supporting social or political causes.

“Money can provide opportunities for individuals to engage in more fun behaviors through whatever a person deems as fun,” says Shaywanna Harris-Peirre, associate professor of professional counseling at Texas State University and owner of Shades of You Counseling. “Money and our beliefs around it really shape our overall happiness trajectory.”

And there are class divides in how much these activities are enjoyed. Lower-income Black adults do not find nearly as much joy in traveling, experiencing the arts, or exercising. “Notable differences exist by income, particularly for activities that can cost money,” the report notes.

Evans says it is good to experience these things, but for those in survival mode or feeling stressed about finances, it is a “band-aid” solution.

“They’re nice to have right now, but you still have to go home where we’re worrying about where our next meal is coming from or how we’re making the mortgage payment. It’s really difficult for people to feel longer-term joy if they’re still stressing about making ends meet.”AJA EVANS

As for their work lives, Black folks are often paid less than their white counterparts, which is worse for Black women, and pushed into lower-paying careers through occupational segregation. Feeling undervalued and underpaid can lead to less enjoyment in working.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

Enjoying hobbies and loved ones also depends on the availability of time. Around 80% of Black adults say they have enough time to do what they please, with 19% reporting they rarely or never have the time.

Pew Research Center found from previous surveys and this most recent one that Black adults who reported having enough time are also more likely to say they are extremely or very happy. But the class divide shows up here, as well.

Black people with lower incomes are less likely to say they have a lot of time to do things they want. They feel that “sometimes” is a more accurate description and make up a larger share of those who say they rarely have the time. But those with middle income are not far behind with their answers.

“They may value their time differently, and they may value more fruitful things,” Harris-Peirre says. “Another symptom of capitalism is that we have the idea that we have to always produce. But specifically for lower-income people, that can be their reality.”

Happiness is subjective, but there are clear divisions in what makes someone happy across class lines.

“We really hold on to this idea that money is going to make you happy,” Evans says. “Yes, it can make you happier, but it’s not going to sustain your happiness forever just because you have money. You need other things, too.”

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