In a song by Chris Janson, he sings the lyrics “Money can’t buy happiness, but it could buy me a boat.” The question has plagued us for millennia, can money buy happiness? If not, why can’t money buy happiness?
Generally, people agree: money can’t buy happiness, but why? I too agree that money can’t buy happiness… to an extent. I think I have a pretty good reason to back up my belief, so stick with me for a few minutes and I’ll lay out the exact reason that I think your path to happiness isn’t necessarily paved with money.
Who says money can’t buy happiness? Princeton Professor Angus Deaton:
A study by Princeton confirms my belief, but I have a bit more to add beyond just this study’s findings:
A study by Princeton professor Angus Deaton suggested that after earning $75,000 in a year, the people he was studying didn’t report much improvement in their overall quality of life.
After $75,000, the Quality of Life Generally Doesn’t Improve Much.
Sure, $75,000 sounds like a sweet deal, doesn’t it? I think most people would be happy with that income, but remember, that was just an average, nice, round dollar amount. I think it’s reasonable to believe that there are people walking this planet that could be just as content at $40,000 or $50,000.
Here is why money doesn’t buy happiness:
That study alludes to what I believe is the primary reason money won’t make you happy. Before I get into it, I do concede that some money will make you happy, but I don’t want you to think this is a cop-out answer. Allow me to explain.
The reason money can’t make you happy is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of what?
Let me show you a picture of it:
This hierarchy represents human needs with the ones at the bottom being most necessary, then building upon those. So basically, at the base is physiological (food, water, air, sleep), and at the top is self-actualization- realizing your full potential as a person.
Video: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs:
What Does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Matter?
The reason I believe money can buy you some happiness is that money can solidly purchase you the physiological and safety layers of the hierarchy. To an extent you can kind of get into the next later or “Love/Belonging” but depending on how financially based the relationships are, they will lack meaning.
Then, as you move up, esteem and recognition that is purchased is hollow and meaningless as well as trying to purchase your purpose in life. When you think about it, the hierarchy starts out by supplying external needs, then moves up into the internal needs of the mind and soul.
The higher up the hierarchy your needs are, the less money can help you.
Big deal, right?
The 3 top layers of needs are probably the most important to humans. They’re what set us apart from the rest of the creatures on this planet. All creatures seek safety, shelter, food, and water. They are so fundamental to our being that many would consider them “rights.”
Once you have those, it becomes a lot more manageable to attain the rest of your needs. Connecting with other people, learning, growing as a person, and making accomplishments in life. You can buy a house or rent an apartment, you can buy food, you can even buy books, but you can’t pay to put the knowledge in your head, and you can’t pay for someone to truly love you.
What Is Happiness?
One of the problems with the English language is that we sometimes lump different but similar concepts into the same word. What do we mean when we say “happiness?” Are we talking about that feeling you get when you’ve bought a new electronic device? Or, are we talking about that feeling you get when you walk outside and feel like everything in your life is just as it should be?
Is Happiness a Car, Mansion or New Big Screen TV?
If you believed internet memes, you’d possibly believe that a Lamborghini or Ferrari would make your life perfect. I’ve seen numerous “money can’t buy you happiness, but I’d rather be crying in a Porsche.” Perhaps there is some truth to that, but a person crying in their car doesn’t strike me as being a terribly happy person. I can picture that person looking out the windshield of their car wishing they were any passerby that was smiling.
Is Happiness a Spike on a Graph or a Sustained New Level?
To me, happiness is contentment. Being content with everything, or almost everything, happening in your life. Buying a new TV feels great on the first and second days, but months and years later, it’ll just be a TV. The bright, shiny, newness eventually wears off. Then you’re back to where you started. True happiness is like setting a new level in your life. It’s the standard at which you live. Sure, things will happen that cause you to dip below this new, sustained level of happiness, but eventually, you’ll snap right back to it.
Working the perfect job, or running a great business are examples of experiencing true happiness. Sure, you might get a terrible customer or project one day, but it isn’t the norm. Once you overcome that obstacle, you’re right back to that awesome level of happiness. I don’t look at happiness like these volatile spikes in the stock market. I look at them as reaching new plateaus in happiness, or possibly a steady, gradual increase over time if you’re truly blessed.
Proof that Money Can’t Buy You Happiness:
My belief is that money can buy you things, which will give you some level of “joy,” but when it comes to the core foundation of true happiness, I don’t believe money can buy you truly, authentic happiness.
To borrow an economic term, money can buy you “utils,” but utils are temporary. True happiness is defined differently for many. Allow me to elaborate:
Yes, buying a Lamborghini feels good (to some), and you might even enjoy the stares you get from other people, but doesn’t the desire for the approval of others indicate a lack of contentment? What do we care about random strangers’ approval or awe of our car?
That’s because I believe true, authentic happiness to be about relationships and self-development. Studies of the elderly also support my beliefs, such as:
- Harvard: Harvard study, almost 80 years old, has proved that embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier
- Berkley: Why Relationships Are the Secret to Healthy Aging
- Lydia Sohn, Yale Graduate: What do 90-somethings regret most? Here’s what I learned about how to live a happy, regret-free life
Money is a Tool
At best, money can be a tool to help you achieve those things more easily such as getting you the right contacts to advance your career and freeing up your time to spend more quality time with people. But money can’t buy you authentic relationships, and money can’t buy authentic love.
Money Can’t Buy Authentic Relationships
At the end of the day, even the shallowest people crave authentic human connection. I believe that is why you see so many celebrities and power-figures struggling with addiction and self-harm.
Need More Proof that Money Can’t Buy Happiness? Look at Celebrities and Other Powerful Figures
If money could buy happiness, then you wouldn’t see so many families of wealthy, famous people broken apart in awful divorces and fights. In those situations, you’d probably find that most of those situations arise from money becoming more important than the people in the relationships.
If people fought as hard for their families as they do in court for their money and possessions, you’d probably see a lot more happiness in the higher income celebrities and power-figures.
I believe the majority of human happiness happens in the top 3 layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Here is an image to help illustrate why I truly believe you can’t buy happiness:
In short, if you don’t have food, water, shelter, clothing or the feeling of safety, then money will buy you a bit of happiness. Considering that most people reading this have those things, it’s safe to say that money won’t do much more for you. The rest is up to you and your ability to build meaningful relationships.
In the beginning of this article, I stated that “your path to happiness may not be paved with money”, but I do believe you can use the money to help you pave the path to happiness. The problem arises when you want to exchange money for happiness. It’s not a product on a shelf somewhere. The truth is, happiness takes an investment of your time and effort.
This is exactly the reason why I believe you can’t buy happiness with money.