According to Deborah Braconnier of, a research study from the University of Texas, revealed that Europeans are happier when they have a day off and work less, while their American counterparts would rather be working those extra hours.

Published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the research, led by Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn from the University of Texas, looks at survey results of Europeans and Americans and how they identified being happy.

HappinessBased on the study results, Europeans who described themselves as being “very happy” went from 28 percent down to 23 percent as their work hours increased. Americans, on the other hand, remained at 43 percent regardless of how many hours they worked.

Their thoughts on the reasoning behind the results point toward the different aspirations and self-worth people have. Europeans tend to be more concerned with enjoying and living life to the fullest, while Americans are busy following the “American Dream” and traveling a road toward financial success.

According to Joe Brownstein from Live Science, without hard data, there are a number of potential explanations for why happiness may differ when it comes to work hours.

“It depends on what one’s feeling is about the aspirations of Europeans and Americans,” said Richard Easterlin, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study. “We don’t have a lot of good evidence on that.”

He added, “I feel Europeans are more inclined to enjoy life and enjoy leisure, and Americans are more likely to be pursuing income and increasing their income. There’s a difference in the structure of aspirations.” However, “I’m not sure I could give you concrete evidence to that effect.”

Americans may be onto something: Past research has shown wealth can bring happiness, particularly if a person’s income is greater than their peers. Another study suggested that as income increases, so does a person’s overall satisfaction with life. However, that money lift didn’t mean more moment-to-moment enjoyment of those days, which instead depended more on social and physical factors, such as whether a person smoked or spent the day alone.

Easterlin and Okulicz-Kozaryn agreed that perceptions may also play a big role, as people who believe their hard work has a greater impact on their success or upward mobility may be happier working more.

“In some countries in Europe, the income mobility may be higher, for instance in Germany,” said Easterlin. “It’s not really that hard work brings more success in the U.S. than in Europe, it’s what people believe in.”

Okulicz-Kozaryn said happiness working longer hours may be a product of the American dream — not of its reality, but belief in the dream itself.

“The idea that hard work brings success and the whole idea of the American dream … is really artificial and made up by public policymakers and politicians to attract immigrants,” he said, explaining that studies on the topic indicate that Europeans have similar levels of social mobility and a similar correlation between hard work and success.


“Happiness depends upon satisfaction with your income, satisfaction with you family life, satisfaction with your work, satisfaction with your health”

“People trade off work and leisure,” Easterlin explained, and so any attempt to explain the results of this study would have to take that into account. “[Happiness] has to do with what you think the goals are of people in the two countries.”
Previous research shows that can come from wealth and as a person’s income and employment status increase, so does their satisfaction with life. Americans believe that their hard is what will move them up the ladder, so they appear happier while working more hours. They believe that by working these hours, they are achieving more and reaching more.
Okulicz-Kozaryn noted that further research could be done on areas such as tax rates to better understand the impact of longer working hours. The theory is that Americans, paying lower taxes than their European counterparts, may be happier to work longer hours, as there is more cash going into their pockets.

The researchers would like to conduct more studies, perhaps comparing the different European countries with America instead of all of Europe as a whole.

Easterlin said further research should compare Americans with people in a specific European country rather than the continent as a whole, as it would allow a better understanding of the values of each place.They believe happiness is tied to what people’s goals are, and comparing the different goals of the people in the different countries would need to be considered as well.

More information: Europeans Work to Live and Americans Live to Work (Who is Happy to Work More: Americans or Europeans?), by Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, JOURNAL OF HAPPINESS STUDIES, Volume 12, Number 2, 225-243, DOI:10.1007/s10902-010-9188-8

This paper compares the working hours and life satisfaction of Americans and Europeans using the World Values Survey, Eurobarometer and General Social Survey. The purpose is to explore the relationship between working hours and happiness in Europe and America. Previous research on the topic does not test the premise that working more makes Americans happier than Europeans. The findings suggest that Americans may be happier working more because they believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success.

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