As far as migration patterns go, this one seems to make sense: leave your native country for a more economically prosperous one and ultimately work towards a better, happier life.
But as new research suggests, immigrants who move to richer nations are unlikely to find greater economic prosperity — or greater happiness — in their adopted countries. In the journal Migration Studies, sociologist David Bartram from England’s University of Leicester analyzed data from the European Social Survey.
Bartram compared the happiness of people who left Eastern European countries to live in Western European countries with the happiness of those who remained (a.k.a “stayers”). Analysis of the data (which included 42,000 participants) did indicate that the migrants were, on the whole, happier than the stayers — but not as a result of the migration. Instead, the migrants were already happier prior to moving — and thus, the migration itself didn’t appear to boost anyone’s happiness overall.
Within the findings, here was some variation from country to country. The study found that migrants who left Romania and Russia did see a higher level of happiness in their new countries, which the researchers attributed to the fact that average happiness in those countries is quite low. Migrants from Poland, on the other hand, experienced a decrease in happiness. But otherwise, happiness levels remained largely stagnant.
Of course, happiness can be difficult to quantify. In an article published on Quartz, Bartram explains how happiness was defined for the purpose of this study. “In economic terms, what matters for happiness is the way one compares oneself to others. If one’s income rises in line with the incomes of others, relative position does not change, and so happiness remains unchanged as well.”
So basically, if you’re hoping to live a happier life, don’t try moving to a richer country. Instead, you could try reading TIME’s recent cover story on the pursuit of happiness.