Thursday, September 5, 2013

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Ah, the age old question: Will having more money actually make you happier? What say ye?

There are numerous books that touch on the subject. One of my favorites from the past couple of years is Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project".  I love the approach she took to studying happiness and that she made a conscious decision to experiment with her happiness. I would probably be happier if I implemented any one of her suggestions.

Not surprisingly, there have also been countless studies attempting to measure happiness as it relates to money. I love it when science meets sociology/psychology, and I particularly love when people are able to present boring facts in an entertaining way.

I ran across this white board YouTube video several months ago and have been wanting to write something about it. I felt I need to wait a little while, at least until I had some of my own empirical data to work with and the other side was still fresh in my recollections.

It's a short video, but if you don't have time to watch it let me give you the run down:
  • It's not what you have it's what you do with it.
  • In North American anything beyond $75,000 doesn't significantly increase happiness.
  • We adapt very quickly to increases in wealth.
  • Buy experiences rather than material goods that produce a one time boost to happiness.
The study of money and peoples attitudes toward it I find fascinating.

I do believe that once a persons basic needs of shelter, food, clothing are met the meaning of happiness does not change greatly and that money can help create happy experiences but is not necessarily required. History has given us plenty of examples of happy and poor. Think Mother Theresa. But there are also some happy and rich examples, too. I just can't think of one off the top of my head - I just know they exist. Or at least I hope they exist!

But here is where I long for more data. For me something is missing from this analysis. Income isn't what it seems. Depending on where you live within the US the cost of basic needs combined with taxes and insurance could leave varying levels of disposable income which could be used to spend on others or to spend on experiences. Not to mention that if you are married, have a couple of kids (or more) and a dog, you are multiplying the cost of those basic needs and the needs themselves seem to be greater.

I contend that happiness is having disposable income that you have ultimate and total control over how it is spent, regardless of what your stated income is. When you don't have money to spend on others, or to spend on experiences, or to give away to charities you believe in, or save for retirement, or pay off student loans, or save for college expenses, etc. can you be happy?

Happiness is an attitude. Giving money away or buying things for someone else without the right attitude isn't getting you anything. You have to want to all the way to your bones.

Happiness is a plan. It is taking control of your money and being in charge of what your money does. It's not letting your money control you. Most of the time we become slave masters to our money and don't discipline it enough. It's a two-year old with a mind of it's old. It needs to be tamed.

Happiness is simplicity. Life right now is so far from simple that it is maddening. With greater income comes greater expenses and frustration.

My relationship with money is complicated. Although our income has increased above that magic happy number, I am no more happier. In fact, I might even say that my happiness in general has decreased. I like to keep things simple, but I haven't figured out how to make it reality. Stay tuned.



  1. I'm right there with the newly increased income (new nurse) and I'm still not comfortable spending money. Especially not on myself.
    I think simplicity is beautiful and it's what I long for.

    1. If you find any good tips for making life more simple, be sure to share!

  2. This is a great and thought-provoking post. I really agree! And you said it so well!

  3. Great Post - after we lived in the Caribbean for 2 years on an island I have made an effort to keep our life SIMPLE. I know I am happiest when our lives are kept simple regardless of money. I say it all the time I would be happy in a shack by the ocean. It really does take a lot of effort (I find more so in the U.S.) to live a simple life. I wish you the best of luck in finding that happy place.
    Chey xo

    1. My goodness simplicity does require more effort than the feeling the word evokes. A shack by the beach sounds divine! Welcome back to the US:-)

  4. I am happy when I don't have debt. Does not matter my income just as long as I'm debt free I can find happiness. It's the debt that makes me feel like a slave regardless of what's coming in.

    1. Amen! I am waiting for the glorious day I can proudly proclaim we are debt free, zero, nada - it is done!

  5. Thanks for your honesty, looking forward to the follow-up post. It's true that money cannot buy happiness, but it's easy to be convinced that it can sometimes.

  6. I'm here to say money CAN buy happiness! Just wait until that first cruise, resort vacation, etc, etc... Just wait until you use your money to put your kids in a better school, college, car (so you don't have to worry about a clunker breaking down on them). It buys happiness and peace of mind and those two are equal in my book. I've lived the poor mouse life and living without REALLY having to worry about how your going to rob Peter to pay Paul... all I can say is a luxury and a blessing. Not having to worry about how your bills are going to be paid is happiness right there. Forget about the "stuff" and concentrate on the memories it will allow you and the life opportunities it will afford you and your children. Our "stuff" seems to bring me stress. So after the dust settles on our renovations, I'm back to booking family vacations! :)


Comments are fun, don't be shy. If you are visiting this blog for the first time leave me a note to introduce yourself.