Can Money Buy Happiness ?
Money can’t buy you love. Worshipping Mammon foments evil ways. Materialists are shallow and unhappy. The greenback finds itself in tough times these days. Whether it’s Wall Street bankersearning lavish multi-million-dollar bonuses or two-bit city managers in Los Angeles County bringing in higher salaries than President Obama the recessionary economic climate has helped spur outrage and revulsion at those of us collecting undeserved lucre.
Wealthy people have a bad rep. Sure, there are philanthropists like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who have given billions of their net worth away and have made the world a better, healthier, safer place. But, sadly, they are an exception. American families who make over $300,000 a year donate to charity a mere 4 percent of their incomes. The statistic should not be surprising, as studies by University of Minnesota psychologistKathleen Vohs and her collaborators have shown that merely glimpsing dollar bills makes people less generous and approachable, and more egocentric.
The one place that money and happiness are significantly linked is when a person is unable to afford to meet their basic needs. There is an appreciable difference in levels of happiness between those below the poverty level and those above it. Homeless people in Calcutta, for instance, score a mere 2.9 on a 7-point scale of happiness, while multimillionaires in the United States rank themselves a cheery 5.8. Once people pass that poverty threshold, though, the money boost tapers off; Inuits in Greenland and Masai ranchers living in Kenyan dung huts are just as happy as the high-society Americans [source: Begley]. So while the Warren Buffetts of the world are indeed more content than beggars on the street, they’re not a whole lot happier than people who herd cattle for a living.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful, or even wanting nice things, because that’s your prerogative – but where does it end? We live in a society where we’re always striving to attain bigger and better, saying things like, “When I have this…” or “When I make more money…” and we forget to live in the present and be content with what we have now. However, when we ultimately reach our goal of buying this or that, or earning more money, we become accustomed to it and take it for granted, and then we want more. We’re insatiable and impulsive creatures when it comes to money and success, and we mistakenly believe that the more money we have, the happier we will be. I think we have it all wrong, folks.
Possessions vs. Experiences
We tend to choose materialistic things over experiences (e.g. traveling) because, in our heads, the material possession will physically last longer, whereas the experience will be fleeting. However, a growing body of research shows that we may be wrong in our thinking.
Cornell University professor, Thomas Gilovich, says the problem is, “We adapt to our material goods,” so, in the end, the thrill is short-lived after we have them in our possession. Then, the cycle repeats over and over again as we continue to try and buy our happiness through material possessions.
Fantasy vs. Reality
There’s also a common misconception that if you have an impressive corporate job that makes loads of money, then you can buy big fancy things and live a lavish lifestyle that will bring immense happiness to you and your family. That may be true temporarily, but you may be confusing the thrill of it all with long-lasting happiness.
Them vs. You
Regardless of whether you think money can or can’t buy you happiness, the focus should be on what happiness and success look like for you, not what it looks like for everyone else. It’s easy to generalize what being successful looks like when you’re basing your opinions on what the media portrays, or, even worse, what you see on social media, because it’s usually a bunch of smoke and mirrors.
One way to find happiness in your life is to find a career that is meaningful, because research shows that today’s professionals prefer a career that is fulfilling over one that pays well. Before you choose a career for money over happiness, consider what really makes people love their jobs, because you may be pleasantly surprised. (Spoiler alert: it’s not money.)