Never mind how much money you earn. All that matters in a country with a large divide between rich and poor is that your income is higher than that of your peers, according to research by a professor from the United Kingdom.

Conducted by Nick Powdthavee of Warwick University along with students Anke Plagnol and Lucia Macchia from City University in London, the research showed that the ranked position of an individual’s income strongly predicts life evaluation and positive daily emotional experiences.

“Their sense of well-being is more likely to be influenced by whether they are the fifth or 40th highest-paid person in their workplace, rather than their precise salary,” said Powdthavee. “Now we have evidence that being the richest person in your peer group is likely to buy you more happiness if you come from a country where income inequality is seen as the norm,” he added.

The research paper titled, "Buying Happiness in an Unequal World: Rank of Income More Strongly Predict Well-being in More Unequal Countries," will be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers compared the income, the income rank and the well-being of 160,000 people in 24 countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Australia and China. They noted more countries were not included in the research because of the lack of top income shares data for other countries such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Also included in the research were data collected by the Gallup World Poll between 2009 and 2015. This included household income and a number of survey responses designed to measure happiness, stress, sadness and anger, the researchers noted.

“The estimated moderating effect of income inequality on the association between income rank and well-being was large; a one standard deviation difference in top income shares produced a 10% gap in the effect of income rank on an average person’s life evaluation,” the report noted.

This finding, it said, is consistent with the social identity theory that people internalize the values and preferences of other people in a society and consequently gain satisfaction from achieving what their society values as important. In this case, it was rank and status, which tend to be higher in places where income inequality is more pronounced, the report noted.

The authors also found evidence that the moderating effect of income inequality varied significantly within, as well as between, continents.

The research also found that those with higher incomes than others of the same age, gender or religion were more likely to report feeling happy, excited, or smiling the previous day. They were less likely to have reported feeling stressed, sad or angry.

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