Money can buy happiness.
The inverse is a lie, told by the rich, to convince the poor to be content.
Tell a starving child in Somalia that money can’t buy him happiness.
Tell the short-sighted, who can’t afford glasses, that seeing the moon clearly at night won’t make them happy.
Tell the nearly-deaf, who can’t afford hearing aids, that hearing their child’s laughter won’t make them happy.
So, I had this debate yesterday. The above assertion was posted by a Facebook friend. He claimed money can buy happiness. Most of us would say it’s not true. But, we live as though it is. We pursue the almighty dollar like the next one will be the one that makes us happy. And he makes some good points. Lack of money, in this world, can put you into a state of misery. It’s true that lack of money can lead to misery. The lack of money can even cost you your life. So, wouldn’t having money buy you happiness? Not necessarily.
Money buys things, not emotions. I asked where one could go to purchase this “happiness”. How much does it cost? He referred me to his above list. These, these are the things that make one happy. Odd. Everyone I know has these things. Why aren’t they are happy?
Most of us, everyone I know, has enough money to not be starving, to buy the glasses, to get the hearing aids. Yet, many of us are far from what we would call “happy”. In debating this with my friend I pointed out that if what he is asserting were true, anyone who had a certain amount of money would be “happy” and clearly that is not the case. The data shows that beyond about $75,000/year in income, there is no correlation- no correlation, between money and “happiness”. Once our basic needs are met, money doesn’t seem to impact our happiness at all. I read a smaller study that asked people how secure they felt with their level of wealth. People with over $70 million dollars in the bank often feel insecure about having enough money to survive. Let that sink in. Do you think you’ll ever have “enough”? (I’m asking you, Brian).
I would assert (and I don’t have the data on this one) that beyond a certain amount of income, happiness actually becomes inversely proportional the amount of money one has. The poor and the middle class can always dream of making more money. We think that if we just had a little more or a lot more, it would finally fill that hole we have and we’d be happy. We could get the stuff. We’d have the security. And all of our problems would be solved. That lie gives us hope and the hope keeps us at least somewhat content. The rich have discovered that that extra money doesn’t buy them squat. They get to the end of the road, having all the money they dreamed of and they’re still miserable. Losing the hope that making more money will buy them happiness leads to despair. Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, on and on and on… They not only had money, they had fame. They had money that most of can only dream of, yet would you describe any of them as happy? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t. They all killed themselves in one way or another.
Maslow’s hierarchy applies. We need to have basic needs met before we can move to the next level, but once those needs are met, we do move onto the next level. We are not content merely with having physiological needs met. Physiological needs like food, water, and shelter must be met before safety concerns- not being threatened. We can’t be happy when we are starving. That’s true. All of the above must be met, but then we seek love and belonging. After we feel loved and that we belong, we seek esteem. And after we’ve met all of that, we seek self-actualization, meaning, purpose. Money can buy us levels one and two. Money can buy us things that meet our physical needs and keep us safe (to an extent), but money cannot buy us the things at the top of the pyramid. Until we have those things, we can be just as miserable as the guy who has no food.
The key to happiness is not in what we can buy, but in how we view our circumstances. Gratitude is what allows us to be happy. If we are grateful for the food, the hearing aids, the glasses, we can be happy. But, if we take them for granted, we can and will be miserable, even with them.