Throughout my life, I’ve heard people say “money can’t buy happiness.” It’s one of the oldest clichés in the books, but is it actually true? I’ve received money throughout my life, and I’ve been happy to receive it. Yet the pursuit of money is a constant one. Whether it brings sadness or joy, people will be chasing money for the rest of their lives.
There are other tropes about money that seem to solidify its relationship with sadness. I’ve heard “money is the root of all evil,” “the best things in life are free,” and “more money, more problems.” These phrases were enough to make me weary of money from a young age. When I started to earn my own money I approached it with hesitation. Not because I didn’t want it, but because felt like the harsh realities of life were hitting me in my face.
It seem corrupt to admit this, but I enjoy getting money. Does this make me a bad person? Maybe, but it also shows me money can’t be that bad. If I can find happiness in it, maybe others can.
Can You Buy Happiness?
Let’s start with the obvious: no, you cannot buy happiness. There’s no magic serum you can buy to elevate your mood and guarantee you’ll be happy. Of course, there are drugs (prescription or not) which can be purchased. These aren’t the same as buying happiness. Prescription drugs are intended to regulate your mood so you experience the world within the realm of normalcy. When working correctly, they will permit you to feel happy, but will not be the cause of your happiness. The other drugs, they’re only temporary solutions. They may give moments of happiness, but everything they give to you will be taken away twofold.
The real question becomes whether or not having money or material possessions will allow you to be happy.
Surprisingly, the answer is yes, at least to a degree. Perhaps the most famous study is one conducted by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. In the 2010 study, they determined individuals become more happy when they make more money, but only up to a certain point. The magic number is around $75,000 a year, but this can vary from person to person. Keep in mind, the cost of living is higher in certain areas, and this cost has changed since 2010.
When you surpass the $75,000 threshold, people have increased life satisfaction but their emotional being remains unchanged. The different between the two boils down to the different between people’s thoughts on life and the ways people evaluate emotions (things like joy, satisfaction, anger, or anxiety). So people may say they’re happier with their lives while making $100,000 a year while simultaneously experiencing more negative emotions.
It’s not a perfect sciences, and there’s not a guarantee high income will turn into emotional distress. But with over 45,000 participants, Kahneman and Deaton may be on to something.
The Sadness in Being Poor
For the most part, money can buy happiness up to the point where your basic needs are fulfilled. Individuals who have to worry about their next meal, ability to afford health care, and dependable housing are more likely to have unmanaged emotional struggles. This decreases their emotional wellbeing while reducing overall happiness.
When looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we see the most basic needs are the ones that are compromised with lower incomes.
Someone earning $75,000 can generally fulfill their most basic needs. This allows them to pursue higher level needs and seek satisfaction in other areas of life. Things like meaningful relationships, job satisfaction, and self-purpose aren’t purchasable. On the other hand, basic needs usually have a price tag associated with them. Removing the barrier of money allows individuals to seek happiness without concern for basic costs of life.
In a sense, fulfilling these basic needs allows you to buy happiness. At a minimum, it allows you to pursue it.
More Money, More…?
After a certain point, money isn’t going to improve your emotional well-being in the same way we can predict it does for poorer people. There’s a lot to be said about that, but we also need to remember this is based on a study. Increased income doesn’t prevent you from being happy, and that doesn’t mean no participants saw an improvement in happiness as their income rose beyond $75,000. This just means your happiness isn’t as predictable after you earn $75,000.
For some people, more money may actually give you more problems. It can put you on a never ending treadmill where you chase dollars and spend them on possessions. You acquire bills, material items, and fall into a routine. You need to continue working to pay those bill to buy those items. It often feels like the purpose of having money is to spend it, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Other people may dedicate themselves to saving money so they can retire in the future. This certainly is not a bad objective, and can allow you to turn your money into more money. I’d never advocate against saving, but it also requires the right mentality. Some people save because they’re living their lives with the goal of retirement. As a result, they’re experiencing periods of unfulfilling work. There’s some optimism in the future, but these people won’t see an immediate increase in their happiness.
There’s also a possibility that people put too much faith in money, viewing is as a symbol of success and happiness. More than ever, young adults are identifying money as the route to happiness. Then they get money, and they’re not as happy as they anticipated being. Perhaps they value money because it’s viewed as a measurement of success. All people should be getting paid to work, so having more money should mean your work is more valuable, right?
For those who are making more, they’re not always using money to buy happiness. They’re using money for other things they perceive to bring happiness. Whether or not this is the path to happiness depends on the individual and their personal values.
Then What Can Money Buy?
Beyond your basic needs, money can buy various items and luxuries to build your happiness and improve quality of life. Individuals who can afford their basic needs can then shift focus to improving their fulfillment in life.
If you want to buy happiness, spend money on experiences. Studies indicates experiences can improve your outlook on life and overall happiness. Often, experiences build relationships and can be shared with others. They can lead to self actualization and give individuals a better sense of identity. People who have spend a lot of money on experiences feel more related to them than their material possessions.
Money can also free your time. Individuals who have money can spend it to give themselves more time without undesirable commitments. Whether this means you’re not working a 9–5 job or become relieved of your household chores is entirely dependent upon the person. Regardless, having more time to indulge in passions allows you to buy happiness in a sense.
Happiness can also be improved if you invest in others. If you are able to selflessly give to others without a need for financial return, you are able to build relationships and establish a sense of usefulness. Individuals are able to contribute to causes they’re passionate about, establishing a sense of belonging within their community.
Usually, when discussing the desire to buy happiness, the emphasis isn’t on material possessions. You may buy items allowing you to engage in passions, like a skier would buy skis and a snowsuit, but the intent is to use time engaging in a hobby. It’s not a mission to buy as many skis as possible.
The Purpose of You Money
When it comes to money, take care of your basic needs. Try to save money so you can ensure your basic needs are taken care of in the future, because this will enable you to seek happiness in your life. Assuming you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and access to health care, do you need more money?
Money isn’t going to buy happiness, but it’s a great resource to have while pursing happiness. You will be able to use it to shift your focus away from merely surviving and try to establish a purpose in life. As you do this, money will enable you to spend more time building the passions that give you meaning.
If you can get to a point where money isn’t the deciding factor, you’re likely in a position where you can become more happy. As you acquire more wealth, you can engage in fewer actives you find truly dreadful. You’re able to prioritize the aspects of life you enjoy because your quest is no longer acquiring money. Most people would say this sound great, and money is needed to get to this point.
So yes, money can buy happiness. No, money doesn’t guarantee it.