Bernanke to USC grads: Money's not enough

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
In this April 8, 2010 file photo Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke smiles viewing a video of his life's achievements during an awards dinner in Washington.

WASHINGTON - Your parents were right. Money can't buy you happiness.

That was the message from the Federal Reserve chairman today to graduates of the University of South Carolina.

"We all know that getting a better-paying job is one of the main reasons to go to college. ... But if you are ever tempted to go into a field or take a job only because the pay is high and for no other reason, be careful!" Ben Bernanke said in his commencement address.

"Having a larger income is exciting at first, but as you get used to your new standard of living and as you associate with other people in your new income bracket, the thrill quickly wears off," said Bernanke, an Augusta native who grew up in South Carolina.

The Fed released his prepared remarks before he gave the speech.

Studies found that just six months after winning a large lottery prize - even in the million of dollars - people reported being not much happier than they were before winning, Bernanke said.

Bernanke's advice blended what economics and social science have to say about personal happiness. When you boil down all the studies and fancy formulas, it sounds a lot like what your parents told you.

Other findings: Happy people tend to spend time with friends and family. Happy people tend to do what they love for a living or a hobby. Happy people tend to feel in control of their lives.

Happiness research is useful for policymakers, too, Bernanke said.

The Fed's goals include promoting economic growth and employment. Richer countries tend to report higher levels of satisfaction because they tend to be healthier, have more leisure time to pursue hobbies and have more interesting work, Bernanke pointed out. Richer countries tend to have few citizens in deep poverty, he added.

Sometimes being unhappy is a good thing.

"It is possible that doing the ethical thing will make you feel, well, unhappy," Bernanke told the graduates. "In the long run, though, it is essential for a well-balanced and satisfying life."

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