Adarsh Gupta, DO

Does money buy happiness? Get an Evidence-based Answer.

There have been many questions on the web asking, “Does money buy happiness?” The answers are also so diverse. I reviewed multiple websites, including Quora and Reddit. I was amazed to learn about the answers. What I am presenting to you today is:

  • People’s opinions (without their identity),
  • Science of happiness and lastly
  • Some questions and thoughts for you to ponder to decide yourself

What do people say about “Does money buy happiness?”

“I don’t look at price tags as often, nor at the rates on the menu. I plan my finances in advance, save & invest as much as I can, and spend judiciously on the things that I love. I worked my ass off to be here, honestly, and if you are not born with money and come from a middle-class family, you’d know that MONEY DOES MAKE YOU HAPPY. It gives you mental peace.”

Anonymous

“Simple things like not looking at price tags or seeing the price of the dishes on the menu means a lot, especially when you come from middle class families…. Not to mention the sheer respect having more money brings out from the people around you (yes, that’s how the world works). Personally for me. It means freedom.”

Anonymous 2

“No. Money does not buy happiness. I happen to know several multi millionaires and one billionaire. None of these people are truly happy despite their immense wealth.”

Anonymous 3

The internet is filled with many different responses. You could have a great debate about this. All of the above seems like a valid answer. But what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your comments. You can write them in the comments section below.

Does Money Buy Happiness?

It’s an age-old question that philosophers, psychologists, and the common person alike have debated: Can money really buy happiness? While having a sufficient amount of money to meet our basic needs like food, shelter, and healthcare is certainly important for well-being, does wealth beyond that translate into greater life satisfaction and joy?

How is happiness defined?

When you ask people what they want to be, most of the time, they say, “I want to be happy.” They want to lead a happy life. While happiness is the major goal of everyone’s life, what does “happiness” truly mean? For some, it means being spiritual and building a connection with God. For others, it is mainly individualistic. It is more about the feeling of satisfaction that people gain after reaching a goal or acquiring an object. One feels happy when they acquire a nice car, an expensive mobile phone, or a house.

The scientific term coined by psychologists for happiness is “Subjective Well-Being.” There are many tools that can be used to measure this – Surveys of Subjective Life Satisfaction, U-Index (captures the periods of a day in which participants felt that they were in an “unpleasant state”), Brain activity, etc.

The United Nations uses the Survey of Subjective Life Satisfaction to measure the Happiness Index in various countries. It has published the World Happiness Report for 2024. Finland, Denmark, and Switzerland rank top in the Happiness ranking, and Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Afghanistan rank lowest. The United States is ranked 23rd on the list (down from 19th place in 2021).


The 100-Day Happiness Journal

The 100 Day Happiness Journal

  • 100 Days of Joy: Dive into a structured 100-day journey carefully designed to help you embrace the beauty of life’s everyday moments.
  • Mindfulness Matters: Learn the art of being present and mindful in your daily activities. Experience how it transforms your perspective.
  • Gratitude Unleashed: Practice gratitude daily and watch how it fosters positivity, resilience, and a deep sense of contentment.
  • Self-Reflection & Growth: Engage in self-reflection exercises that promote personal growth and self-awareness, paving the way for a more empowered you.
  • Daily Prompts: Thought-provoking prompts guide you through your daily journaling, making the process effortless and enjoyable.

The Research on Money and Happiness

Let’s look at the research evidence to answer our question, “Does money buy happiness?” Numerous studies over the years have looked at the link between income and self-reported happiness or life satisfaction. The findings have been quite mixed:

  • A famous 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found that higher income does correlate with greater life satisfaction, but only up to around $75,000 per year. Above that threshold, more money had little effect on day-to-day happiness levels 1.
  • Other research suggests there is no dollar value at which money’s importance for emotional well-being tops out. A 2018 study found that as income rose higher, life satisfaction continued increasing as well 2.
  • It may depend on how the money is spent. Spending on experiences like vacations tends to bring more happiness than purchasing material goods 3.
  • Income and wealth likely impact different aspects of happiness and life evaluation. Wealth seems more important for evaluating your life as a whole, while income influences more day-to-day emotional well-being 1.

The Role of Adaptation

One key factor is that humans tend to adapt to changes, whether positive or negative. A large windfall of money brings an initial boost of excitement and satisfaction. But people inevitably adjust to their new circumstances over time, and the thrill fades away.

One of the unique things about the human mind is that it is very adaptable. It gets used to stuff very fast. It is also resilient. This is our protective mechanism. Let’s say you just bought the latest mobile phone. You definitely feel satisfied and happy. But how long do you feel happy? For a week, two weeks, or a month? I bet this happiness goes down as days pass. You get used to this new mobile phone. It does not give you the same happiness as it gave you the first day. Soon, you see another item that you want. You then focus on that, thinking that if you get this new material possession, you will be happy. This cycle continues. The happiness associated with materialistic things is short-lived.

Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky states, “The reason why goal-achieving doesn’t buy lasting well-being is that people inevitably turn their attention to the next, newest goal.4 So while money can make us happier in the short term, the effects often erode over time as our expectations and desires increase.

The Real Drivers of Happiness

While money provides some happiness by removing basic worries about survival, many psychologists argue that relationships, meaningful work, good health, and having a sense of purpose are much stronger predictors of happiness over the long run.

As the Dalai Lama put it: “Attachment to wealth robs whatever is left of the time we have to spend on Earth and raises insecurity about our lives. Since our bodies are transient and the wealth may well be enjoyed by others, the only thing we really have is a warm feeling toward others.”4

So, money likely can buy some happiness, at least temporarily. But appreciating what we have, savoring experiences, and focusing on intrinsic drivers of fulfillment like close relationships may be the real keys to living a truly joyful life.

It is different from someone needing money to buy food or clothes. In this situation, money buys necessity, and it does provide more satisfaction than someone who is looking for only shiny and latest items.

Instead, if one invests time and effort in experiences—spending time with family, going on a trip with friends, having a walk on the beach with their spouse, or organizing a family picnic—one also feels satisfaction and happiness. But since the experiences are not material, one can not get used to them. In fact, even thinking about those events provides happiness, and this happiness lasts longer.

Conclusion – “Does money buy happiness?”

There is no absolutely clear answer to this question, but from the studies and data presented, we can infer that money does buy happiness when it fulfills the basic necessities of living—food, clothes, and a house. Once you reach a certain level of affluence, having more money does not really increase happiness much.

To get long-term happiness, one should focus their time and efforts on creating happy memories – invest in experiences more than materialistic things.

I love to hear from you! What is your opinion? As I said, there is no absolute answer to this question.

References

  1. Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves the evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. PNAS, 107(38), 16489-16493. ↩︎
  2. Killingsworth, M. A. (2021). Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(4), e2016976118. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016976118 ↩︎
  3. Gilovich, T., Kumar, A., & Jampol, L. (2015). A wonderful life: Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1), 152–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2014.08.004 ↩︎
  4. The Dalai Lama & Cutler, H. C. (2009). The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. Avery. ↩︎

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