Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Revisited

Money and happiness

Money and happiness

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor — and believe me, rich is better” – Sophie Tucker

Quick:  which is more important to you, money or happiness?

Yes, this is an either/or question, and intentionally worded that way.  Why?  Because chances are, you are at a stage where they’re no longer positively correlated.  Here’s what the research* shows:

  • Wealth – societies become happier as wealth increases… until incomes reach a moderate level (roughly $65,000/year currently)
  • Mental illness – GDP has increased 3-fold but depression and other mental illnesses have increased 10-fold over the last 50 years
  • Greater divorce rate – is evident among people with rising income compared to those with stable income
  • Materialism – decreases well-being because of problems such as low self-esteem, narcissism, less empathy, increase in comparing oneself to others, less internal motivation, more conflict in relationships
  • Rising expectations – offset further increases in well-being beyond the moderate income level.  Adolescents from affluent neighborhoods are less happy and have lower self-esteem compared to those from middle class and inner city slums possibly because of higher expectations of them and by them.

I’m not advocating that you stop trying to make money, make a living, or improve your station in life.  Rather, I suggest that we stop treating money like a surrogate for happiness and just pursue happiness instead.

I know, spending money makes you happy.  It makes me happy too.  But it’s short-lived.  I get a little high from buying a nice pair of shoes or jewelry, but often by the time I’ve gotten home with it, the euphoria has worn off.  Sometimes I don’t even want to bother putting it away.

Instead, we can invest in our happiness by looking for meaningful experiences, deep relationships,  developing our religion or spirituality, helping others, and using our strengths every day in activities we find meaningful.  So maybe take some of that time you spend thinking about making more money and invest it directly in building your own happiness every day.

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants”  – Benjamin Franklin
* from Diener and Seligman, Beyond Money.  Toward an Economy of Well-Being, Psych. Sci. Public Interest,  5(1): 1-31