Inspired living

Does money make us happy?


Whatever you are striving for in your life — whether it’s that perfect relationship, the gorgeous home, a beautiful body, approval of others or money — it’s likely you believe these things will bring you happiness.

If you’re spending a lot of time making money it could be that you think money will make you happy or at least guard you against things that could make you unhappy. Sometimes the things you strive for may enhance your happiness, but it may also be that once you achieve them you’re still not happy.

Many people believe that if they had a little more money they would be happy, but at what stage does that little bit more become enough? You acquire a little more, perhaps you receive an increase in your wage, and before long you find yourself back where you started: wanting “just a little bit more”. You might eventually be incredibly wealthy and able to afford not only everything you need but everything you want, only to find it’s still not enough. Still there’s something you desire which is just out of your reach — and you’re basically no happier than you were.

Can money itself make you happy?

Some people believe that achievements such as education, marriage, family and status will make them happy and in order to reach these goals they need money. They therefore deduce that having money is what will enable them to be happy. However, studies of happiness have found that, while money makes these achievements more attainable and may well make certain aspects of your life easier, it has little to do with your happiness (except among the very poor) when compared to your sense of wellbeing. A poll carried out in more than 130 countries including Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Togo concluded that money cannot buy you happiness, though of course it can help to ease day-to-day struggles.

Yet often people who are struggling financially look at wealthy people and wish they had what they have, thinking that wealth equates to happiness. The irony is that while they’re being envied, those very wealthy people may be busy worrying about how to make more money, how best to invest their money, how not to lose it and whether their new friends are friends with them because they actually like them or because of their money. If you’ve become obsessed with not losing the money you have, obsessed with gaining more, or if you believe your happiness is contingent upon money, you’re bound to be miserable or on your way towards becoming miserable.

If money alone could make you happy, everyone with a lot of money would automatically be happier than those without — but, as we’ve already seen, this is not necessarily true. There are people on this planet who are incredibly wealthy financially but miserable; then there are those with very little money who are happy. It can also work the other way around: there are wealthy people who are happy and poor people who are not.

Many people want to become wealthy because they believe it will bring them a better quality of life. However, their expectations may be deceptive because money doesn’t necessarily improve quality of life. The quality of your life is directly proportionate to the state of your mind, so taking care of your mind and keeping it positive is the most effective way to enhance the quality of your life — and it’s not money that’s needed for that, but wisdom and discernment.

Is money inherently opposed to happiness?

While money is not necessarily opposed to happiness, there’s a tendency for those with less money to have more appreciation of the simple things in life, while those who are wealthy are inclined more easily to take the simple things for granted. Research has also shown that the more money you have, the less likely you are to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and being unable to enjoy the simple things can obviously limit your happiness. A landmark study of lottery winners showed that people who’d won between $50,000 and $1,000,000 were less impressed by life’s simple pleasures than people who didn’t experience such a win.

What about children who are showered with material goods — does that make them happy?

“The best predictors of happiness are internal, not external,” says Edward Hallowell, psychiatrist and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. He stresses the importance of helping kids develop a set of inner tools they can rely on throughout life rather than indulging them in material goods. Overindulged children, he says, “whether showered with toys or shielded from emotional discomfort, are more likely to grow into teenagers who are bored, cynical and joyless”.

Can buying “things” make you happy?

Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.” — Victor Hugo

If you have all the money in the world with which to buy all the things you could ever wish for but have no love in your life, would you want to live? Ultimately, money can bring you many things but it cannot bring you love. The degree to which you feel happy is often connected to the amount of love flowing through your life so, if it’s happiness you’re seeking, forget about finding it through money alone.

It’s not difficult to notice the detrimental effects that consumption of material goods for the sake of consuming can have on individuals. While many people are caught up in the illusion of buying things in order to gain happiness, others — like Sharron Doran, a 44-year-old business development manager — believe that “no ‘thing’ can make you happy”.

Doran says, “Happiness is not something you can buy or get from ‘stuff’; in fact some of the happiest people I’ve met have very few material possessions but a rich spiritual life and they radiate happiness to all those they come into contact with.”

Research has uncovered some surprising facts about what makes us happy and one of the things it shows is that our experiences make us happier than the happiness we gain from material purchases. However, being wealthy financially doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be wealthy in other aspects of your life. A study done with adult employees of the University of Liège in Belgium showed that the wealthier the workers were, the less likely they were to display a strong capacity to savour positive experiences.

Similarly, an international team of researchers led by Harvard academic Jordi Quoidbach reported in Psychological Science that, although wealth may grant us opportunities to purchase many things, it simultaneously impairs our ability to enjoy those things.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the ancient yogis advocated the yoga principle of aparigraha or non-accumulation. They believed accumulation inhibits the ability of the consciousness to expand, increasing the tendency of your mind to become obsessed with fear and holding onto things, which in turn prevents you from being happy.

While part of the problem with purchasing and accumulating material goods occurs when you don’t take the time or don’t have the capacity to appreciate the things you’ve bought, another part of the problem occurs after you’ve bought things, when you start comparing what you have with what others have. You would have been more than happy with your new car but, because the Joneses have something much better, your purchase feels less satisfactory to you and decreases the possible happiness you may have derived from it. Instead of enjoying your purchase, you’re now thinking about how and by when you’ll be in a position to afford a better car.

For professional photographer Rodney Weidland, 68, money not only fails to make you happy but can actually do the opposite. “Money can cause misery,” he says. “It gives you a lot of choice — and choice can be difficult.”

But if buying things can’t make you happy, why are so many people doing it? Has buying things become an addiction in our society which is distracting and preventing us from searching for happiness inside ourselves?

“While it may be a quick fix, buying things to enhance your happiness,” says 21-year-old student Lucy Mclachlan, “it can’t solve deep-rooted unhappiness and can become an addiction which leads to people living beyond their means, causing even more unhappiness in the end.”

Can you become a happy spender?

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, but the feeling of happiness dwells in the soul.” — Democritus

So buying things cannot make you happy beyond a superficial level — but is spending money always such a bad thing or is it is possible to compensate for some of these effects by spending wisely?

According to research, while money’s not inherently opposed to happiness, how you spend can and does affect to the happiness you get from it. A famous Lexus ad pronounced: “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness isn’t spending it right.”

So the choice is yours: you can either become like an unsatisfied warden standing protectively at the doorway to your many possessions or spend your money in a way which contributes to yours and other people’s wellbeing and improves the world around you.

Walter Lubeck, author of The Tao of Money, believes money is basically neutral and only acquires a certain quality through the way we use it.

“According to whether we spend it with love, consciousness and responsibility or thoughtlessly squander it, it spreads light or darkness,” says Lubeck. Lubeck himself only achieved happiness from money since coming to understand how important it is for him “to handle his dough in a meaningful way and not to have too much or too little of it”.

“Money is a means of storing and transporting energy,” he says. To become happy and spread happiness through money he emphasises the importance of learning to see money as a wonderful tool for personal and social healing.

Merely having more “stuff” will not make you happy — if anything it will just lead to accumulation of clutter in your home — but how you spend your money can certainly have an impact on your happiness. How you spend can potentially create powerful and positive changes in you and in the world. While being mainly concerned with filling up your bank account won’t bring you long-lasting happiness, spending it in some of the following ways might.

How to spend your money wisely

Spending your money wisely could include spending it on:

  • Activities and experiences rather than on merely accumulating material possessions
  • Activities that help you grow as a person (doing personal development courses that enhance your health and wellbeing, taking music lessons, investing in a ground-breaking venture)
  • Activities that strengthen your connections with your family, friends or colleagues (eg, family reunions, shared expeditions and adventures)
  • Contributing to your community and thereby creating opportunities for growth you yourself and others (supporting a worthy fundraiser, helping someone in need, donating it to a charity). According to Buddhist perspective you can certainly be successful in anything you do materially and there’s nothing wrong with acquiring wealth, but spiritual success should never be lost sight of and therefore money must be used in the service of one’s family and less fortunate beings
  • A variety of small pleasures (eg, regular massages, weekly delivery of fresh flowers and organic foods or frequent phone calls to your best friends overseas)
  • Something that you’ve worked hard to be able to afford, thereby increasing your sense of accomplishment and appreciation when you finally purchase it

Have you become greedy?

While money isn’t inherently opposed to happiness and while there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of it, if you become greedy about money it can be the cause of much misery for you and those around you.

The greed which accompanies a strong desire for power, money or resources has no end and quickly becomes toxic for your mind and body. Greed and desire are two of the most powerful motivational factors for accumulating more money. Where greed is concerned, there is no end to how much you want and need in order to fulfil a false sense of happiness — and desires, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, make you miserable. Once a desire is fulfilled it often just creates the space in you for yet another desire to arise, and on it goes.

Developing a healthy, happy attitude to money

Most of the misery or happiness that’s connected to money lies in the attitude we have to it. Here are a few tips on how to have a healthy and happy attitude to money:

If you want to attract more money into your life then quit thinking of money as something which is bad or evil. Your attitude plays an important role in attracting money into your life or driving it away, so become aware of how your attitude is affecting your reality and change it if you need to. As Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Keep your money in your pocket, wallet or bank, not in your mind. If your mind is continuously obsessing with money it can become very dull and reduce your happiness.

Develop a sense of trust. Trust that you will always be taken care of, in every way, including financially. Have a deep confidence and faith in this and then couple it with taking financial responsibility.

To create abundance around you, quit worrying and thinking about money all the time. Creating abundance cannot happen by worrying and thinking; instead, create positive energy inside you first. Pranayamas (yogic breathing techniques) and meditation create positive energy in you and have the potential to increase abundance in your life to the level where you lack nothing.

Remember, you can’t take it with you when you die. “The richest man in the world cannot take a single possession with him at death,” says His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When you die you’ll have to leave behind all the money and material goods you’ve collected; everything has to remain behind. The only thing you get to take with you is the spiritual wealth or sadhana that you have accumulated though spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, prayer and acts of kindness.

Be mindful of not falling into the trap of accumulating money at the expense of your health. Many people whose main focus has been the accumulation of money also accumulate high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and an array of other psychosomatic illness related to stress. As founder of the Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri Ravi Shankar puts it, “We spend half our health gaining wealth; and then spend half our wealth in order to gain back our health. I don’t think this is good economics.” If you’re financially wealthy but can’t appreciate or use your wealth because you’re not healthy, then how worth it has it really been?

Don’t rely on money for your sense of security or safety. Be aware that security can never come from money alone. The desire to have more money, and thereby feel more secure, never ends. Some of the people who have the most money are also the most insecure. “Money gives the illusion of control and safety,” says Weidland, “but change in life is constant, whether you have money or not.”

Avoid falling into the trap of letting money be the be all and end all of your life. If making money is your main priority, chances are high that your life will lack the satisfaction which comes from having a deeper purpose and meaning.

Instead of just thinking about and worrying about yourself all the time, make time for helping others, attending to the needs of society and doing something useful for others. “If you can do this without worrying about money or your own needs, you will not experience lack in your life,” says Shankar. “If you do something that is useful for people, you will automatically make money.” If your main focus is not on the money but rather on the job you’re doing and the idea you’re working with, then money will come.

Keep the balance. “A life lived with the sole goal of making money can end up a lonely and cold road,” says Lucy Mclachlan. As you go about making money, be sure not to lose the balance in your life for the sake of money. You may have become so focused on one goal — for example, on the goal of making money — that you’ve stopped making time for the other things in life that could truly bring you happiness. Remember, your family, friends, social life, hobbies, spiritual needs and health also need some attention from you if want to feel balanced and happy.

Live gratefully, spend less, buy justly and give. A small group of churchgoers in Boston who studied what the Bible teaches about money and wealth as a way of improving their attitude towards money decided that the answer lies in “living gratefully, spending less, buying justly and giving more”.

Be grateful. Practise gratitude for what you have. In the Bible it says that those who have will be given more and those who don’t, whatever they have will be taken from them. According to Ravi Shankar, this is referring to gratitude. Abundance, in every sense of the word, including financial abundance, comes to those who are grateful while lack comes to those who grumble and complain.


Meggan Brummer has recently become a mum and is currently discovering how to remain healthy, happy and sane though mamma-hood. You can read more about it on her blog, megganmamma.wordpress.com.