Though there are, of course, exceptions, research (and Hollywood) have shown that we tend to surround ourselves with people with whom our financial standing is comparable. There are some simple reasons for this, including the logistical fact that as adults, many of our friends are work colleagues or neighbors. On an emotional level, surrounding ourselves with those who do about as well as we do reduces the probability of experiencing envy and jealousy.
A recent study published in the journal Science, however, questions the notion that being the least advantaged people we know leads to dissatisfaction. For more than 20 years, a research collaborative that included economists and sociologists from the University of Chicago and Harvard tracked 5,000 families in five major American cities—including New York, Chicago, and Boston—that had moved out of poor neighborhoods to more affluent ones. The researchers’ hope was that living in the more well-off areas would lead to better jobs and higher incomes for the families. Though that didn’t happen, researchers did find that these families reported being much happier than those who had stayed within their original community—even when they didn’t make more money themselves.