But Money CAN Buy Happiness

Does money buy happiness? I’m not sure, but I do know it bought the $200 dollar suit, $40 leather shoes, and $20 dollar hair cut I absolutely needed to get hired. Money bought the civilized means that erased condescension, the social capital to tell my wealthy coworker he was an idiot. To be poor and respected – that’s possible only with the credible threat of violence and most people seem to prefer I avoid the thug life.

My body is made of money. Money buys fresh vegetables instead of bulk Top Ramen, which is another way of saying it pays for my normal, unmedicated blood pressure and didn’t pay for my hypertension as a 19-year-old. It buys my trips to the gym for basketball and medical care when I break a foot or sprain a wrist. Money means I’ll be able to walk when I’m 70. It renders the cost of laundry trivial. Money relieves stress, which is to say it saves me from the void of hopelessness sucking at my stomach. Money frees me from my second and third jobs.

It buys the presumption of innocence from police officers and, failing that, it buys lawyers. Lawyers make you innocent, as I learned firsthand in a rural Nevada jailhouse. The justice system suddenly became my friend. Money buys me car insurance or, when I’m in Korea, housing in the communities that have functional public transportation. In other words, I’d otherwise have no legal means to get to work. Money bought me real estate far enough away from the meth labs that I no longer hear the explosions.

Money buys me weekend getaways and first dates in nice coffee shops. Money buys, in some order, sex, marriage and offspring with a chance to be something in the world. Money makes a family possible. If I’m able to secure enough, money will give me a place the grandkids will want to visit someday, and not the mold-infested dump my grandparents died in. It will keep my future wife from crying softly over a checkbook and spare my children from lying like I did to protect the family honor.

I reflect and wonder if, perhaps, we buy a little more happiness than we’d like to admit.

Ben Garrido at Literary Adventures in Korea

97 thoughts on “But Money CAN Buy Happiness

      • Maybe… it can but not directly. Money can buy us the tools to mingle, also it can buy us the time and place and food and everything to spend time together with friends ._.
        I don’t know maybe my interpretation is too shallow

      • Not shallow at all. This topic could be a lot bigger, in fact I have a longer article about money in the works right now.

        The philosophical question, in my opinion, is if money is a pre-requisite for friendship, if it’s enough on it’s own or if it’s not needed at all. I lean toward pre-requisite but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you want to expand.

      • Wow yes prerequisite! Apparently that is actually what I had been thinking but I didn’t know the English term for that.
        >.<
        Only to add a little bit, once a friendship is established, I think money is still required to keep us in contact, we need to pay the costs (for example, the cost of superficial stuffs such as the charge of our phones) if we want our friendship to stay long πŸ™‚

      • I see and acknowledge your points about money easing our way in life, and they are certainly valid. But money being a pre-requisite for friendship? Absolutely not. I am interested in your experience of friendship that could lead you to even contemplate this could be true.

      • Well, let me put it this way. Can you think of a single friend making or friendship maintaining activity that doesn’t require at least some money or a hefty opportunity cost?

        My experience is I grew up upper middle class and got seriously poor in my teenage years. I found that a social life is very much something you purchase.

      • Okay. Well, yes, I can. I am a mother in an isolated rural village in eastern Australia. None of us have much money, so we go to each other’s places or meet at the park, river or ocean – all free. Other (free) ways I maintain my friendships are through email and social media. Yes, I have to pay for my internet and my device, but there are plenty of places I can go to access free internet and computers if I need to. I am aware I live in a wealthy privileged country where even the poorest people can have cars and houses, but I haven’t observed in third world countries where there is no money, that they are friendless.

      • I thought we were talking about money being a pre requisite for friendship? Maybe the real topic should be that time and priority is a pre requisite for friendship.

      • I was attempting to illustrate opportunity cost. Being able to take time for child rearing and friendship means that you have enough money to stave off the bill collectors. If you didn’t have enough money to meet basic needs, you would convert that free time into a second or third job and thus survive.

        In other words, free time for friends is has a very severe opportunity cost if you’re impoverished.

      • Yes, I see what you are saying. Or, I would simplify my life and reduce my costs to fit in with our reduced income, which is what we did when my partner got made redundant when I was a week away from having our second child. For me, I would rather do without than not have friends. But, i live in a socialist country that will support us with a minimum payment while we find more work, and when we do have work there is a minimum wage, public health and all of those safety nets that ensure our basics are covered without having a second or third job. Unless you want to, of course. Perhaps it is different for you. Still, I do believe it is a question of priority.

  1. Ben, you are conflating a number of different issues, namely a lack of money, a lack of safety and the lack of the opportunity for self-respect and self-fulfillment. Given the choice of living and bringing up my children in a violent inner city neighborhood on the minimum wage, or a subsistence level existence in a Thai peasant village that provides safety and community I would have no hesitation in choosing the Thai village.

    • Wouldn’t you think that, given money, the lacks of safety, self-respect and self-fulfillment are at least ameliorated?

      While you point about a poor but idyllic Thai villiage is well taken, getting to that village would require, well, money.

      It’s not really a part of this topic, but for philosophical and historical reasons, I would be nervous about joining idyllic impoverished villages in general.

      I’d love to continue this discussion in detail.

      • Having lived as a member of an extremely poor rural community, I’d like to comment that, firstly, the term “idyllic” in reference to real poverty doesn’t compute. Secondly, it was definitely better than living in an extremely poor urban community (not that I personally have experienced that, but I have been inside such communities). Thirdly, the occasional cash injection made a huge difference to our and our neighbors’ comfort levels and, sometimes, health and safety (think: gas to get a sick child to the nearest hospital. If we didn’t have it, the child died.) Finally, living there, despite the many discomforts and inconveniences and risks of poverty, was one of the richest and happiest periods of my life, and sometimes I ache to go back. On the other hand, maybe the fact that I have money, and therefore options, is precisely what makes it attractive.

      • There’s an idea I heard that happiness and meaningfulness are different things. For example, Americans tend to be happier than Nigerians, but they don’t rate their lives as being as meaningful.

        Does this match your experience?

      • That’s a very interesting insight! I need to think more on it, but yes, I’d say it’s been true for me. And maybe that’s the secret to feeling happy … People say “You can choose to be happy” but if your happiness depends on external factors outside your control, that’s not always possible. But you can always choose to find ways to make your life more meaningful – and the effect of doing so will be a deeper kind of happiness, and maybe even joy.

      • Ben, clearly I am not denying that money can’t improve your standard of living. However, I am arguing that happiness has less to do with a deficiency of material resources than it does with the conditions that make a modest and decent life possible, namely safety, self-respect and self-fulfillment. Address these issues and the problem of poverty will shrink to its rightful perspective.

      • And once you reach that idyllic village in Thailand, do you think the locals will accept you as one of them? I think not, even with money, it can take generations to assimilate into a culture where you are truly accepted, or “friended” even if you have money, more than likely it will actually ostracize you further. No win situation.

  2. First of all, a really decent article, thank-you for a wonderful read. I think all your observations are very true at at least some levels, many of which are very important, and I would certainly be much more satisfied with a life that incorporated the many things you described that rely on the possession of money for their fulfillment than I would a life that included none of them. But there is one area that you didn’t address, that for myself, is far more important than all the others, and I have experienced a life that includes this area both at times when I’ve had substantial finances at my disposal, and at other times when I was living on the streets with no finances to speak of. Today, I can say to you, with a sense of certainty, that as far as I’m concerned money only hampered my efforts to lead a satisfactory existence in this area. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I’m talking about my spiritual walk as a Christian, and no, I’m not a believer of the “Prosperity Gospel” as far as MY life is concerned. For myself, and I’m guessing for many other Christians as well, the more money we have, and material wealth to go with it, the further away from our Lord, we find ourselves walking. Since “leaning on the Lord”, and “relying on Him for everything”, is a central part of the Christian faith as followed by at least a significant body of believers (though certainly not by all) surely you can see where being totally self-sufficient actually is contrary to our core beliefs. I’m not saying that no Christian who has money can at the same time remain humble before the Lord, but what I am saying is that neither myself, nor any other Christian as weak as I in this particular area can manage to do so. Therefore, what money can’t buy, at least for what I am relatively sure is a large body of people, is an eternity of life after death in the presence of our Creator. As for those who feel sure that they can remain humble before the Lord while being good stewards of the tremendous gifts He has bestowed upon them, I have nothing but the utmost respect, but if a person should find that their money has become a reason to ignore or forget about the one who created them, to those people I can only say, “Your money may be costing you far more than you know.” And once again, thank-you for a really great post which I truly enjoyed.

      • My use of the term “humble” in these circumstances has quite simply to do with the sense of reliance on my Creator for everything that makes my existence what it is. I may have the money to do all that you so correctly point out a person could do with adequate finances, and as long as I remain grateful to my God for supplying me with these finances, or indirectly, with the means to generate these finances, then all is well, and I am walking in a path that is pleasing to the One who Created me. However, as is very often the case with myself, and according to my life experiences, with many others as well, something changes within me when things are going too well. I start to see myself as being the source of the good things in my life. This always happens when these good things are too easily obtained. In short, I begin to feel self-reliant, and I suddenly lose that sense of gratitude to my Creator that I had when times were tougher and I was desperate and in extreme need. When this happens, in no time at all, everything that was going so well, suddenly comes crashing down around my ears. I find myself forced another time to turn to this higher power, and in prayer, humble myself once again by asking for His help in restoring the good fortunes that I had previous to falling back into this same trap that has caught me on so many occasions. And that is what I mean by remaining humble. I have no doubt that a person could have all the wealth in the world, and still be the finest example ever seen of a Christian, if they could manage to always remain humble, accepting that everything they have is owing to their belief in their reliance on God for all that they have. But if they are like me, and for whatever reason, having large amounts of money makes them feel like they don’t need God, then they should always remember, God will not force Himself on anyone who doesn’t want, or need, a relationship with Him. Sorry for the length of this reply, but I hope it answers your question.

      • In the sense you describe here, I’m a big fan of humility. One attributes success to one’s own virtue far too easily and it’s very dangerous to forget the roles luck and supporters play in our successes.

        In the sense of being meek, of seeing yourself as something less than others, of being quiet when the betters speak and accepting a lowly station in life, I wouldn’t wish humility on my worst enemy.

        Thanks for the comment. πŸ™‚

  3. I’ve never thought of it this way. You’ve proved that money can buy happiness to a certain degree…but should we feel guilty about this? I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t…(feel guilt, that is). Do you?

  4. It’s good to have money. How you use it, well, that’s up to you, but I’d rather have the choice than none at all.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

  5. Great post. I think money can buy us a way out of misery. I’m not sure it can buy us happiness. Saying that, It can certainly oil the machinery that produces light and laughter.

  6. This is a really good article, and the comments here are so sophisticated and really deep to fathom and it makes me a bit hesitant to share my thoughts. But in my simple understanding, I do agree that money can buy both happiness and sadness, depending on how money is used, and this article is just telling the reality, because it’s hypocrisy to say that money can’t buy happiness.

    • The idea that money can’t buy happiness, I suspect, is true in an absolute sense. Ie, it is possible to be rich and miserable.

      But I wonder how this cliche, this “money can’t buy happiness” got so ingrained in the culture that people feel guilty admitting that running out of money makes us sad.

      Anti-materialism has its place, but we really should place it on firmer foundations in my opinion.

  7. We all love saying that money can’t buy happiness, or that money isn’t everything. I say that all the time. But the way this was written, blows me away. It speaks of today’s truth. It speaks of realism and humanity both. Money really can get us a lot. But having said that, there is one thing it will never do for us. It can’t buy us love, family or true relationships.

  8. Here’s an interesting article on the subject:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2013/01/25/money-does-buy-happiness-we-were-shocked-too/

    While I’m not sure how effective this study is, I tend to agree on a personal level. It seems a certain amount of money is required (here they say 50K) and beyond that it doesn’t matter much. I don’t know about this number, but I do tend to think there is some threshold.

    Of course, it is possible for certain poor individuals to be happy, but those are exceptions. They are likely extraordinary people with inner resources that the rest of us simply don’t seek to acquire.

    • Thanks for the link. Very interesting stuff.

      I’ve read similar stories before and they seem to mirror my experiences. The thing I’m wondering is where the idea money doesn’t matter comes from and how it became so powerful.

      • I think it came from the Beatles. πŸ™‚

        No, seriously. I think people like to give lip service to such ideas, but often those people don’t really know what it means to be very poor or they don’t reflect enough on the matter. It’s true that having money doesn’t NECESSARILY make one happy (imagine being a billionaire but being told you will die a painful death regardless of current medical technology because you have some horrible disease) but to say it doesn’t factor in at all is ridiculous.

        It’s also true that a lot of people chase wealth in the hopes that they will become happier, and this is not going to work either. There’s definitely a balance that creates happiness, and it’s not just external factors or just internal factors. We like to say we can self-regulate and create our own happiness, despite external factors, even flying in the face of external factors, but I could come up with some scenarios that would challenge most people. Sure, there will be some Gandi out there who will prove me wrong, but on the whole, our economic situation counts for something.

        I think within materialistic societies, there’s always going to be a backlash, and backlashes tend to overstate things a bit. They operate in the same way bumper stickers doβ€”they present half-truths.

      • Very interesting reply. I need to think this over before I answer the entire thing but, right off the top of my head, I wonder what makes materialistic societies especially prone to backlash? Can we blame Yoko Ono? πŸ˜›

      • We can ALWAYS blame Yoko Ono. πŸ™‚ Climate change, natural disasters, stock market crashes. It’s all on her.

        I’m just speculating about the backlash thing. I think any sort of excess in a society would create a minority backlash against that excess. But maybe not.

      • I’m thinking of a number of things — first of all, the look of health. Money buys good health care.Then there’s physical attractiveness as a result of good health and the ability to buy well designed, fashionable clothes. And attractiveness has been proven to convey the message of intelligence and competence which increases employability in good jobs. There’s also the factor of good, creative education beginning at the earliest years with books, theater, and music at home and with family. To live in a neighborhood where the schools offer a wealth of experiences and the expectation of success. Later to attend the best of colleges — probably with full tuition paid — and graduating to jobs that earn respect. (often with very little debt having been incurred.)

        Oh, I almost forgot the bit about the perception of honesty and reliability. Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Wealth is not likely to be shot unarmed on the streets in the suspicion he or she is committing a crime. Nor is he or she suspected of white collar crime.

        In a way, I guess it could all be summed up by saying that money carries the expectation and potential for comfortable living.

        Obviously this reply is written without editing, but I’ll bet I could defend the way I put words together by claiming the good education that money has bought.

        All in all, it’s not at all fair, and I think our society is in great danger because of the wide disparity in wealth. But those of us who have had the blessings of good health, enough to buy attractive clothes, a good education, and a career involving things we enjoy doing, ought to be both grateful and concerned about reaching a point where others can share in all those good things.

        Did you really expect for me to go off on such a rant when you asked the question? Well, thanks. It was fun.

      • A most welcome rant. πŸ™‚

        I can relate to a lot of the things you mention here. These days, when I’m wearing a nice sport coat and leather dress shoes, I have a hard time taking other people’s trust and respect seriously.

        The reason I have a hard time taking it seriously is I know, from experience, they’d almost certainly treat me like a criminal and idiot if they met me while I was dressing out of a Goodwill.

        The entire scope of interaction changes.

      • Somehow your response about not trusting the reaction when you are in leather shoes and sport jacket reminds me of Jay Leno wearing a suit — under some duress — when he is performing, but loves his casual blue jeans. There are things one can do comfortably when one is famous with a good reputation.

  9. I’ve never been as ‘broke’ as I am now. I can’t say I’m unhappier than I was before…but my stress levels have never been higher. Money can’t buy happiness, but a few grand would probably get me some peace of mind and a good night’s sleep. For those I would be very grateful. Great post. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Aleya

  10. At last a blogger that admits money does buy a certain quality of life. I have yet to see a homeless person with a happy face. I can not imagine how horrid my life would be without my parents having a tad of money that enabled me to get into nursing school. I can not fathom my life now if I had no vehicle or money to buy food and the list goes on. I am far from wealthy but by George a bit of money keeps me in health insurance and a roof over my head.

    So yes, I totally agree with you that money, as far as I’m concerned buys me security which leads to happiness.

    Thanks for a well written article/post.

  11. Loved the unapologetic honesty of this piece.

    People like the myth of the contented poor – I guess it’s nice to be able to swallow it when there’s so many poor people out there – and I don’t think money improves things beyond a certain level. But there’s that certain level. Being able to eat properly, see a doctor, enjoy basic security and have options and opportunities – that’s the level at which money does buy happiness.

    • That has certainly been my experience. Going from buying nice food at Raley’s to buying nicer food at Whole Foods probably doesn’t make much difference. Going from bulk Top Ramen to nice food at Raley’s though, that’s a BIG difference.

      Thanks for commenting. πŸ™‚

  12. Ah! The necessary evil…you know what…sometimes….when I am sitting idle(very rare), i check myself from head to toe…and try and calculate the total cost of garments and accessories I am wearing at that moment…and it adds up to quite a tidy sum…and then I feel…that somehow life hasn’t been all that bad too me!

    • That’s funny. Thrift is so ingrained in me, it’s in my blood. The less my clothing comes to, the happier I am. Feels as though I’ve won. What probably helps is that I don’t look poor. I love the concept of a sale, not only for the obvious benefits to my pocketbook but the fact that businesses have to compete for my dollar.

  13. I’ve always felt that the person who coined ‘money can’t buy happiness’ either didn’t have much themselves and needed a consolatory proverb for their off-days, OR were really rich themselves but conspired to keep the poor contented or unambitious. I don’t have much money, but I can see how it can buy happiness in several forms – including an often-facilitated entry into friendships and love.

  14. Money can only solve money problems. It offers nothing beyond the ability to control ones environment, Happiness, on the other hand, is totally subjective. In my opinion people are as happy or unhappy as they choose to be.

    I say this as I prepare to leave the house for my seven day per week, night shift job that supplements an inadequate retirement income. And I am happy for the opportunity.

    As Meher Baba advised, back in 1925: Don’t worry, be happy.

  15. Good post about how much influence money has on all aspects of our lives. I have no disillusioned about that!!
    But it can’t buy your health, because there are diseases which are incurable, no matter how much money you have. It could however, buy you comfort while you are dying. I have dealt with a good number of ‘rich’ people who bargain with me with their money for their cancers to be cured. They often look at me in disbelieve when I tell them that their cancer is too far gone and no amount of money can turn back the clock or make them live longer.
    ‘But money is no object, I have lots of it!!’ They would say.
    I want to say, ‘look at one of the richest men we knew, Steve Jobs. His money couldn’t stop his pancreatic cancer’. But I bite my tongue because they are not ready to accept the truth.
    So I do like my wealth but I appreciate my health more. I appreciate it everyday.

  16. The comment in relation to health is so true. No amount of money can buy you health. When you are a healthy human being your life is complete you can embrace your life and most importantly enjoy it! πŸ™‚ ❀

  17. I agree with all of the above. But having been both poor and affluent at reoccuring stages of my life, I grew both stronger and more spiritual when poor. Prefer affluence, but have to admit the poor years were rich in many ways. There are other ways to grow strong, but most of us will avoid them if we can. Poverty is its own school. And for many affluence eventually becomes empty without spirituality.

My Two Gold Cents in the Holistic Treasury

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