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Surprise! Rags to riches nations aren't happier.

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Greg Baker/AP/File

(Read caption) A young boy looks at a Hyundai Equus car at an auto exhibition in Beijing in this 2009 file photo. Even in China, where per capita income has doubled in 10 years, happiness levels haven't budged, according to a new study.

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Raising a country from poverty to affluence should make the nation's population happier, right? Wrong, according to a new study of 54 countries worldwide.

Money doesn't buy happiness over the long term, the study found. The results apply to developed and developing countries worldwide, said study researcher Richard Easterlin, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California.

"Happiness doesn't increase with the rate of economic growth even in less-developed countries or transitional countries," Easterlin told LiveScience. "We already know that to be true of developed countries, but now it's been extended to countries of lower levels of income."

Easterlin and his colleagues reported the results this week (Dec. 13) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The happiness paradox

Almost 40 years ago, Easterlin discovered a strange economic pattern in the United States: If you look at snapshot data, richer people are happier than poorer people, and wealthier countries have more satisfied populations than less well-off nations. But when you look at data collected over time, more income doesn't bring happiness.


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