“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”
–Helen Gurley Brown
Money can’t buy you love, but how can it buy you happiness? At what point does it stop buying happiness?
Let’s find out.
Yes, I am going to go out on a limb here and go contrary to every pundit you’ve ever read who tells you that money cannot buy you happiness. Of course, we all know that you can’t buy me love (raise your hand if you now have an earworm of the Beatles song in your head), but I posit that you can buy happiness.
Heretic! the masses cry.
I’m here to play the Galileo of personal finance to the heliocentrics who claim that it cannot buy you happiness.
Ways in Which Money CAN Buy You Happiness
Don’t worry. I’m not going to turn you into the Mr. Burns character from The Simpsons anytime soon.
You are not this man.
However, because we’ve been taught from a young age that money is the root of all evil rather than that the love of money, we develop scripts in our brains that create this dichotomous tension in our minds.
Ask yourself this: would a little bit more money help you out? If someone handed you $1,000 in cash, no strings attached, could you use it? If you could make $10,000 more a year in income, do you think you could put that money to good use?
Yet, some voice in the back of your mind whispers, that’s greedy. You’re being covetous, aren’t you?
If you have that little voice, it’s preventing you from getting ahead. It’ll sabotage you in ways you don’t realize.
- “I don’t deserve this.”
- “There are people more deserving.”
- “I’m focusing too much on myself.”
- “It’s selfish to want more.”
- “We think the grass is greener on the other side, but it rarely is.”
They’re self-defeating conversations we have in our minds because we think that we’re supposed to think a certain way. So, we put up our own barriers to succeeding. Monkey Brain wins.
Let’s defeat this notion that doing well is somehow evil.
Here are some ways in which money DOES buy happiness.
- Money buys necessities. It may sound simplistic, but if you have enough food to eat, shelter, health, and security, then, by and large, you’re going to achieve a fairly high baseline of happiness. A study by Dr. David Myers of Hope College confirms that where basic necessities are scarce, affluence leads to happier lives. If you’ve ever had to scratch through a living, then you know the difference in relative affluence and how much easier life is when day-to-day survival isn’t in question.
- Increased income, up to a point, does increase happiness. In the aforementioned article, the most frequent response to a Gallup poll showed that the one item which people said would increase their quality of life was more money. Once you reach about $75,000 a year in salary, the incremental benefit of more money is mostly removed.
- More money gives you more control of your life. While more money may not be directly correlated to more control, a study by Wendy Johnson and Robert Krueger of the University of Minnesota showed that having more resources led to a perception of more control, and that the perception of more control led to a higher level of happiness. If you think that you can do what you want to do in life, you’ll choose to do things which make you more happy. Anything which reduces the perceived barriers to doing what we want, including financial barriers, will increase our happiness.
- It decreases the chances of divorce. A study by the Utah State University showed that 93% of couples cite financial problems as an either primary (39%) or secondary (54%) cause for problems in a marriage. Couples who had $10,000 in assets, as opposed to $0 in assets, were 70% less likely to divorce and couples who argued over money once a week were nearly twice as likely to divorce as those who had disagreements less than once per month.
- Money solves money problems. This may seem like a redundant statement, but, as Bradley Klontz and others showed in a 2004 survey, 73% of Americans named money as the number one cause of stress in their lives. If you can eliminate the number one cause of stress for 73% of Americans, then you can eliminate a LOT of stress. As Baron Richard Layard points out, happiness is strongly correlated with better immune system response and lower levels of cortisol. Less cortisol = better health. Additionally, by solving the money problems in your life, you are able to focus on the other areas of your life which provide you with a higher level of satisfaction and enrichment – the control of your life discussed previously.
- Improving your relative income position will make you happier. While I don’t think you should try to keep up with the Joneses, how much you make relative to those around you does affect your happiness. People who make $100k a year but are surrounded by those who make $125k a year are less happy than those who make $75k a year but are surrounded by those who make $50k/year.
Should you spend your entire life chasing the brass ring? Of course not. You should know what your priorities in life are. However, don’t eschew money as a source of evil or believe that more of it can’t make you happier. While happiness comes from within, if we’re looking at financial problems elsewhere, it’s hard to turn inwards to find that happiness.
Can money buy happiness? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
- John Davis is a nationally recognized expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books about his expertise in the field and has been featured extensively in numerous media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, CNBC, Fox Business, and many more. With over 20 years of experience helping consumers understand their credit and identity protection rights, John is passionate about empowering people to take control of their finances. He works with financial institutions to develop consumer-friendly policies that promote financial literacy and responsible borrowing habits.
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