What three words come to your mind in response to "happiness"? Using a free-association task [cf. Nelson, D. L., McEvoy, C. L., & Dennis, S. (2000). What is free association and what does it measure? Memory and Cognition, 28, 887-899], this research finds that the number of social words (e.g. family, love) provided in link to happiness predicts people's actual life satisfaction level. However, this association was significantly moderated by the person's self-perceived financial state. The contingency between holding a socially-oriented belief about happiness and experienced life satisfaction was significant among members of low socioeconomic status (SES), but not among the high SES group. This pattern was replicated across two divergent samples (Asian college students, Study 1; American adults, Study 2), regardless of one's extraversion level (Studies 1, 2) and availability of social support (number of friends, Study 2). Given the overlapping function of money and social relationships (instrumental in promoting survival), believing in the social nature of happiness seems to be more central in the life satisfaction of those with less financial resource.
Keywords: Happiness belief; life satisfaction; money; social relationship; word association.