Yesterday I posted the following scenario….

Imagine being offered two jobs. In terms of working hours, duties, location, and career prospects, Job A is absolutely identical to Job B. In fact, the only difference between the two positions is the disparity between your salary, and that of your future co-workers.

In Job A, your annual pay will be $50,000 and your colleagues will be earning $30,000. In Job B, you will be earning $60,000, and your fellow employees will be on $80,000.

This was based on an experiment originally run by psychologist Amos Tversky.  Tversky was interested in decision making, and came up with two versions of the task.  In one version he just asked people which job they would prefer, and discovered that the vast majority chose B because of the higher salary.  However, when Tversky asked people which job would make them happier, the majority went with A because they realised that being surrounded by others earning more is not great for your self-esteem.

Yesterday morning I posed Tversky’s first question and, as predicted, almost everyone went with Job B.  Then, in the afternoon I switched to the happiness question and there seemed to be a shift.  More people were undecided or went with Job A.

And there is the issue.  The choices we make are often heavily influenced by the questions we are asked, or ask ourselves. In this scenario it is easy to see how we could choose an option that makes us unhappy and yet feel we have done the right and logical thing.

What thinks you?  Did you decide on the basis of your happiness or your wallet?


  1. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea of ‘happiness’ causing you to want to make everyone around you worse off, especially to the extent that you’re willing to make yourself worse off too for no reason other than spiting everyone else.

  2. Yeah I didn’t see the 2nd post, but if I had it would still be Job B. I don’t understand why making more money, regardless of whether people around you are making more or not, would be less satisfying then less money, yet more than those around you. I guess if you get your self worth from what you make compared to those around you, then Job A would win, but if you get your self worth from something else, then Job A should win every time.

  3. Originally I thought that both scenarios would be difficult choices:
    With “A”: your associates might be unhappy with your grander paycheck. And that could have caused conflict and a lack of teamwork.
    With “B”: I thought that eventually I might become resentful, in the same way that the fellow employees of “A” might.

    Then reconsidered: what if my fellow employees and I were in this together – as a team – then forget the resentment and choose the what would benefit the team – and, as a bonus, each of us as individuals.

  4. I think the best choice is B because clearly company A is cheap and company B pays well which would give you a better chance of more pay in the future. I always find that in the long run, its easier to start out on the bottom and just below everyone and prove yourself versus starting out on the top and having people pull you down, i.e. causing you a lot of stress. You’ll be happier in the long run and make more money. The best of both world.

  5. I think it’s weird people associate happiness with how they stand in relation to others, rather than on their own scale. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to think I’d be more or less happy if I was doing better/worse than my co-workers, salary wise.

  6. But I am already surrounded by people who earn more than me, I’m a lowly office worker. I don’t think it is bad for my sef-esteem. Maybe I am just not good at psychology. Oh well.

  7. Wallet only matters if it gives us the means to find happiness or avoid unhappiness. If I’m spending 1/3 of my life doing something I hate, it has to give me enough money to do something pretty spectacular in my free time to be worth that. And of course I have to be doing something that pays enough to cover the mortgage payment and buy cat food or the happiness of the occupation will soon be outweighed by the misery of living in the streets with two hungry cats.

  8. it’s not a matter of wanting to make others worse off, it’s a matter of feeling valued. I went with happiness after having had eighteen years of choice B.

  9. It’s about the relativity and not the gross figures in the end. Much like driving across town for a $800 laptop that’s on sale for $400. But not doing the same for a $40,000 car that’s $38,600 across town. It may be the same $400, but for some reason because it’s only 1% of the price, rather than 50%, it doesn’t feel to our dumb brains like an equivalent saving worthy of the same effort.

    I think it’s called synthesized happiness, where studies show that people who win the lottery are no more happy one year later than people who had an accident and became paraplegic. We can make ourselves happy (or the alternative) regardless of the logic of any situation.

  10. I would still pick B. My job isn’t what defines me and my happiness, my family is. The better I can provide for them and the happier they are, the happier I am. Of course in reality Job B would never be identical to Job A. One would have more overtime, a bigger commute, etc. In the end you choose what’s best for you and your family.

  11. Maybe another way of looking at it:

    1) You already have Job B, you’re getting paid 60k would you be willing to do the same work for a 10k pay cut, and your coworkers get a 50k pay cut?


    2) You already have Job A, you’re getting paid 20k more than your coworkers, would you be willing to do the same work for 10k more a year and your coworkers would get a 50k raise at the same time?

  12. Both. I genuinely think that B would make me happier, because A would mean having to deal with jealous colleagues and constantly having to prove I was worth the highest salary. The stress would far outweigh the pride of being ‘top dog’. Also, B would leave me with something to aspire to, a goal to work towards (the 80.000 salary), which would make me happier. Plus there’s the extra 10.000 to do fun things with.
    So for either question, I’m with B all the way.

  13. Wallet. £60 grand is still £60 grand. So what if someone else is earning more. Tis the way of life. Most people I know earn more than me, so its not an issue. If I was offered £60,000 I would take it.

  14. Both actually, I don’t see myself being happy if I knew I was making $10K less than what I could have been making, even if I would be the lowest paid member of the team. I know I would be more unhappy with choice B if I did not know of choice A, but knowing of it, it would make me feel much better having gotten the better deal.

  15. I would be happy making 60,000 regardless of what my co-workers were making.
    I would think that they would most likely have young children, and their futures to consider. I would feel more loving for it. I would have better karma, and I would be highly respected for doing so. People come first, then money, then things. I would feel blessed, and happy by living a god-like existence, instead of a greedy one.

  16. neither. there is not enough information given for me to make a decision.
    my self worth is not compared to what others get but to what I value my self at. there are basic needs that must be met, then progressive wealth depending on what other expences I have.
    I want both happiness and wealth and will not make an and or choice betwen them

  17. If the two jobs are identical, I think I would be happier earning $60,000 than $30,000 no matter what my coworkers are making. What does my coworkers salary have to do with putting my children through college or being able to afford a movie on Friday night.

  18. I would expect B to make me happier. I would get pity, and pity is always good. Also, haha, just noticed the smiley at the very bottom of the page.

  19. My answer are both B, definitely. Why do I have to care so much about others? 60000>50000, that’s enough.

    Besides, I don’t want to be unhappy and earn less, while my coworkers are happy and earn more. I’ll lose both happiness and wealth, don’t you think it’s unfair?

  20. i find it fascinating that a lot of people would take b on the grounds that they think people would resent them if they earnt more in job a.
    By the same logic if they earnt less in job b wouldn’t they be resentful of the higher earners?
    I earn half the amount of the team I work in. There is no pity for me and by the same token I don’t resent them. It does cause slight issues when socialising with them though, because they can afford to go out more and spend more money than I can. I’m not considered the lowest of the low either. Money can’t buy you love or happiness though 🙂

  21. Dr Brinkman and Dr Kirschner in their book “dealing with people you can’t stand” have a diagram with “task focus” to “people focus” on one axis and passive to agressive on the other. I’m thinking that dependant on where you are on this grid would depend on if you go with A or B.

  22. As I said yesterday, I’ve been in the “B” situation, and it is very annoying. It did eventually get resolved, but I was always frustrated with having to do the same job as someone who was getting £5000 a year more than me. Having said that, I enjoy the job.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t be “happy” that I’m earning more than my co-workers either, as I’d still be frustrated at the management for having the situation of disparity between staff doing the same job in the first place. I suppose I’d not worry about it as much as if I was on less than everyone else, but it would still annoy me!

  23. It’s a little dishonest to affirm that ‘more people were undecided or went for A’. I didn’t see more than very few people who went for A…
    So is it ‘logical’ to feel happier that everyone is earning less?

    The major problem with this question is that it is very unrealistic. In real life, we’d have lots of other parametres to think about.

  24. I read the post in the morning, answered in the afternoon but I didn’t see the change to the question when I submitted my answer as I already had it half typed on my screen. I didn’t read any of the responses before answering as I didn’t want to risk them influencing my answer. So although I did answer in the morning I answered the first question and went for Job A, I would still answer Job A to the second question as well.

  25. In my mind it is not a question that I would feel happier that everyone else is earning less, my happiness would come from the feeling of being properly appreciated for what I do. The unhappiness in Job B would come from not being appreciated.

  26. I answered the happiness question with B, because it would give me less stress because of lower expectations! I’m a receptionist, so I’m used to pretty much EVERYONE in the company I work for making more than me. As long as i have enough to enjoy the rest of my life, I really couldn’t care less!

  27. Key factor for me is timing, i.e. what is the context in which I am answering the question? Five years ago I changed jobs and took a 20% pay CUT in order to improve my level of satisfaction and happiness from the job itself. At the moment, I am working for myself but with low levels of activity & therefore limited income. Consequently, I would answer differently now.

  28. Nice theory and pretty motivation for chosing A was based on value and happiness in a team…as i did mention the cutting back to the same salary scale to be equal,…its easier that way then getting a whole group, in a group, back to the same level…i find that alot of people are not concious of their motivation for money and make excuses for it to make it feel ‘right’…this ‘unconcious’ chosing also sadly causes alot of the so called ‘top-dogs’ in groups, behave like ‘dogs’…’asuming they theirselves(and the same level earners forming ‘closed groups’ within a group)are indeed more worth then all others…

  29. I think the happiness question is a second order effect – we’re thinking up reasons *why* we’d be earning less than our coworkers. The obvious one being that you’re the least important person there, and thus the bottom of the pecking order. You won’t get the opportunity to lead, or take initiative, so less oportunities for achievement and thus happiness.

    On the other hand, another way of looking at it’s because we’re less experienced than our coworkers. If you value learning, surrounding yourself with more talented people is a big advantage. If that’s the reason, job B may be preferable even if the salary was less than A.

  30. I decided on B partly because of the higher wages to me (regardless of what others were getting paid). Also I reasoned that if I was being paid less I was probably in a lower position in the company (the question did not state that everyone held the same position, just that you had colleagues) and if I was in a lower position, there was probably less stress associated with the job and that would also give rise to the “happiness” answer. Definitely more so than going for A would.

  31. I think better than the A through the B. That is, start with the B, but when luck is “over”, go to the A and make money 🙂 Greed to anything is not good. All will be, but not all at once 🙂

  32. Either way, I’m still confused as to why anyone would pick A. They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but with an extra $10k in my bank account each year I could do a lot of thinks that would make me pretty happy.

    Am I in the minority here that I have absolutely no idea what anyone around me makes?

    Even if the situation were that I knew exactly how much money everyone else made, I can’t imagine a valid reason for choosing job A.

  33. When I first graduated and entered the job market I had an extremely boring job where I was relatively highly paid compared to many of my colleagues. Salary was never discussed and I dreaded the resentment that they would be likely to feel if they ever found out. I next moved to another well paid job that was extremely stressful and made me very unhappy for a while. Neither of these scenarios would I like to repeat.

    I am now in the fortunate situation of not being the main family breadwinner and have a fairly low paid part-time job which contributes directly to the wellbeing of others in my locality. On the whole I get a great deal of job satisfaction from this work and my pay goes towards being able to do things as a family that we would otherwise not be able to afford. I am much happier like this.

  34. Happiness over wealth is what I feel but I want, but wealth over happiness is often what I think I want.

  35. I would certainly go with job B because even though people around me are
    getting a much higher salary, I would get a higher salary than job A. The
    money I earn could buy more things I want. That would give me happiness. Assuming the co-workers at job B are friendly, they won’t show off much.

  36. This is over simplistic. Where I work I was told not to tell what I make and everyone else as well. The bosses don’t tell what each makes. But who cares, when I get a job the contract is between me & them the others are immaterial. All else equal I go with the money. Money may not buy happiness but the alternative sucks!
    Besides when the others job the job they made an agreement. Me joining adn getting more does not LOWER them they are still where they are.

  37. Are you sure you got the experiment right? I doubt society has changed that much since this experiment was done, then again perhaps Tversky fudged the results.

  38. I still think Job B. Since both jobs are identical, they’d be equally fulfilling; I don’t consider some competition with my co-workers to be any kind of criteria for happiness. But of Job B, with its higher salary, lets me do more with my family, save more for retirement and the kids’ college, etc., then it could increase my happiness–or at least my comfort, which makes it easier to be happy.

  39. I’d go for the job that made me happier, as after tax the extra $10,000 isn’t that much money and I have a husband who works, so I’m not desperate for the money. It depends on a number of factors though, such as how long I envisage I’ll stay in the job, whether my work colleagues know how much I earn and how nice they are.

  40. I somehow do not believe in the cleanness of the experiment and lean to think that the split of modern opinions would be close to 50/50. Overall the experiment seems to base on the mechanics how people learn and perceive the world – based on comparison. The mountain might be high or not based on what terrain you are used to and other mountains surrounding it. We also measure things on the ability to fill our basic needs – food, security, sex and social. I do not know if you would get better sex being top dog in your company or being high earner in your City, but earning more than your colleagues probably put you higher on the social. 😉 I think our answer mainly depends on what kind of income we are used to and we see as our primary environment – work or private life. I lately see the trend that for many people work is not so important anymore as even an average income gives security and possibility to prove yourself in other areas. A person can be not high socially at work but get the kick form being the fastest cart driver at the go cart club or best photographer on flickr.

  41. correction – Our answer mainly depends on what kind of income we are used to and what we see as our primary environment – work or private life.

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