Does Money Buy Happiness?

Sponge Bob


in General

Ask that question of anyone and the most common answer will be an emphatic “NO!”. But as actions speak louder than words, our behavior often tells a different story.

Look at the news headlines and the content of so many “how to” books, magazines, TV programs and articles; they deal with every imaginable nuance of all things money. Look as well at the number of financial crimes, and we can see how far some people are willing to go to get more of it. It’s clear we have an interest in money that goes way beyond casual.

At what point does our interest in money go too far? When we come to see money as the measure of all things; when we start to believe that money can buy happiness.

Money has it’s place, and it’s important to be sure. But so is the realization of it’s limits. Like our talents, skills, and contacts, money is a tool that can be used to make our lives better. However, true happiness is found in areas of our lives that often have little to do with money.

What are some things money truly can’t buy?


Maintaining good health is one of those fortunate areas of life that doesn’t require a lot of money to maintain. A healthy lifestyle is a choice far more than it is a line item in the household budget. Walking, jogging, biking, yoga, calisthenics, push-ups—most basic exercises require far more in the way of personal commitment and physical energy than they do money.

How about diet? It can be argued that you can buy healthier foods with a bigger wallet, but for most of us in the Western world, good eating habits are mostly about eating less. If anything, eating less means spending LESS money, not more.

Conversely, we can decide to pursue wealth and completely ignore our health in the process. We can work so hard, so diligently to attain success—and even attract a flock of admirers and followers as we do—that we can sacrifice our health along the way.

Once lost, health cannot be “bought back”, no matter how much money is poured into it.


A life filled with true friends is a life well lived. How much money does it take to have a friend? None. In fact, it can be argued that money often attracts people who mostly look like friends, but aren’t.

All it takes to have a friend is to be a friend, and any of us can do that without having or spending a dime. More than anything else, friendships are established by common interests, time spent together and by the expression of genuine concern. Those are qualities we’re all capable of providing, and money has nothing at all to do with it.

Just like with health, there’s can be an opportunity cost if we too closely connect money and friendships. We can neglect the need for friends as we pursue money, which will make the climb to wealth an especially lonely journey. Or we can convince ourselves that friendships are the reason we pursue money, under the misguided notion that people will like us better if we’re richer. The reality is that they won’t like us better, but they might like our money.

You can be surrounded by a lot of people in that situation, and still be very alone. A friend who’d abandon you if you went broke is no friend at all. A good friend however, requires no money at all.

Fulfilling work

Is work all about money? If you had a choice, would you rather work at your true calling—what ever it might be—or would you rather make a lot of money? Many in our culture chose making a lot of money.

In truth, we could all work at our true calling if money wasn’t the ultimate force guiding our career choices. Depending on what that calling is, we might not even need to sacrifice income to pursue it. Many experts claim that if we follow our passions, the money will come–eventually.

It’s hard not to make a complete connection between work and money, but if the drive for higher earnings becomes the main career metric, we could be missing out on finding our true calling and actually enjoying work.

A fast track career means progressively higher income, promotions with more stress, lifestyle inflation, and a bigger investment in a retirement plan to support us when we finally decide to throw in the towel. But always aspiring for more has a way of marginalizing contentment, which is the ultimate state we all seek to live in.

There might be sizeable material loss from dropping out of a career path to do work you truly enjoy, but that loss may be offset by substantial non-monetary benefits including:

“¢ working at something that doesn’t feel like work
“¢ working at something you won’t feel the need to escape from through retirement
“¢ a life in which work itself provides the satisfaction you now seek from the things money can buy
“¢ more control of your time
“¢ a better blending of work and personal life

So perhaps even work isn’t entirely about money either, not if we can find happiness in the work itself.

True independence

Many of us connect independence to money. But is that really a valid connection?

One of the problems with money as a means to independence is that it’s often a swap of one form of dependence for another. For example, money may free us from the threat of starvation or discomfort, but in doing so it often makes us more dependent on money itself. We may trade fear of poverty for fear of the loss of a certain income level, or of the loss of a certain investment portfolio value. Those fears bring us anything but independence and can instead be incredibly confining.

We don’t need a lot of money in order to achieve independence. Independence can come from:

  1. an ability to live within your means
  2. an absence of debt
  3. sufficient savings to survive for several months
  4. good health
  5. a lack of attachment to possessions
  6. an ability to manage limited resources
  7. transferability of skills
  8. work that you love that you feel no need to escape from
  9. strong social connections
  10. the absence of a need to always have more

Having a solid degree of each of these qualities can bring us a level of independence that money can’t buy. None of these requires money to attain either, with the exception of #3, and that certainly doesn’t require anything close to being rich.

Often, it’s the sense of independence that we seek in the quest for money. It’s almost ironic then that we can get caught up in the chase for more money when true independence can be had any time we choose to pursue it in its true form.

Kevin At Out of Your RutThis post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog

What do you think? Do we need a lot of money to be happy? And let me restate a question asked above: If you had a choice, would you rather work at your true calling—what ever it might be—or would you rather make a lot of money?

(Sponge Bob—is there a happier character ever conceived with less concern for money???)

Photo courtesy of Realtor Susan

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Joe Plemon 2010/05/11 at 9:07 am

Great list of things other than money that will give us happiness. I appreciate the “fulfilling work” item and the observation that we might not even need to sacrifice income to follow that passion. Along that same line, working in your passion could help with health (less stress related illnesses), friends (one is more apt to be a friend when she is happy) and lifetime income stream (one will work for 10 or 20 or 30 more years at something they love).

Thanks for the uplifting post!

paul 2010/05/11 at 10:56 am

So true Joe. If you’re working at something you love the mere idea of retirement changes drastically. Please everyone let me know when you are there because I surely haven’t found it yet.

Joe Plemon 2010/05/12 at 6:38 am

Paul, that is a tough one…knowing “when you are there”. Certainly we will love certain endeavors and despise others, but I wonder if there is a real panacea out there? That passion for life (and career) might depend as much on how the individual responds to circumstances as the circumstances themselves. Could it be that some people are naturally more upbeat like Garfield’s friend Odie and others are naturally dreary like Winnie Pooh’s friend Eyore?

Kevin 2010/05/11 at 7:08 pm

Joe, excellent point linking stress and health. So often we pursue money with the idea that once we have “enough”, we can eliminate stress. But the damage is often done by the stress lived chasing the dollar amount, and it’s also true that the more you have the more you worry.

Jenna 2010/05/11 at 9:14 am

I believe you need some money to be happy. I live by the saying “work hard, play hard”. I love skiing, wakeboarding and traveling. All things that tend to be a little pricey. But I also believe that working hard at a job you love enables you to have great fun and vacations. But then again, I’m frugal in other things – going out to dinner, clothes, transportation, etc.

Hands down I would work for my true calling over being rich.

paul 2010/05/11 at 10:54 am

I’m definitely with you Jenna. It’s where I’m headed as well but at the moment I’m held hostage by my job and my lifestyle.

Jenna 2010/05/11 at 10:57 am

Also, family could be another thing on here. If you have financial commitments to them.

Kevin 2010/05/11 at 7:11 pm

Jenna, good point about family! That’s kind of a double edged sword in that you do need a certain amount of money to support them, but there’s also a point of diminishing returns, where more money won’t replace the things lost in pursuit of money, like time, attention and shared experience.

It’s such a balancing act with family and money–no wonder so many of us have such a tough time finding the right mix.

Jenna 2010/05/17 at 12:06 pm

It would be interesting to find out what your readers do to balance family and money. Thoughts and tips would be super helpful too!

kt 2010/05/11 at 9:42 am

i am having some serious money problems and because of it i am a little surly. i think a some money in my account could do a lot to increase my happiness…. for now. dont get me wrong, i have all that other things that money cannot buy in quite abundant quantities and i am thankful to God for them. I was reading somewhere about people who would gladly pay for a good night’s rest and i remembered that i have more of that than i know what to do with 🙂

paul 2010/05/11 at 10:53 am

@kt I think that’s a good point of having a base to work from goes a long way from both a stress and wellbeing standpoint. If you are constantly worrying about your financial situation that often dwarfs anything else you might have going on. I know from my own experiences that’s absolutely true. Surly is definitely a term I would use to describe myself from time to time as well. Here’s to busting it on out so that you can worry whether or not money will buy you happiness.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff 2010/05/11 at 1:22 pm

We need at least $50k a year to be happy (our mortgage and basic expenses plus retirement savings) and I rather work at my true calling than make a lot of money. Friends and family really do make all the difference.

Kevin 2010/05/11 at 7:15 pm

I’m always reluctant to put a dollar amount on happiness, but I see your point.

In my own experience, there have been times I’ve made a lot of money and couldn’t get why I wasn’t happy, and other times that I scratched my head wondering what the source of my contentment was since I was making so little!

Big Cajun Man 2010/05/13 at 4:42 am

Money can buy peace of mind, and that might just be enough. You should check out the the year of giving for a more interesting view on this

Jason @ Redeeming Riches 2010/05/14 at 4:18 am

Money does buy happiness up to a certain point. Once you move beyond a certain comfort level, the amount of money you receive and the happiness you achieve is disproportionate.

I really like the point of fulfillment at work. I really believe that tapping into people’s passions and empowering them to live those out will bring greater happiness than a huge amount of money.

Great post!!

Kevin 2010/05/14 at 5:00 am

Well said Jason (well…written at any rate!). Utimately, life is about what we DO, not about what we have, and I think that’s what often gets lost when the biggest pile of money becomes our ‘holy grail’.

FinancialBondage 2010/05/17 at 11:00 am

You can have money and be happy. But having money is no guarantee you will be a happy person.

Bern 2010/05/17 at 11:14 am

Great post! Bob Proctor once told me in a coaching session that money can’t make you happy, but it can make you comfortable. I truly believe that. It’s the reason why we see some broke millionaires out there ““ people who have a lot of money but are unhappy.

I believe happiness comes from a balance of all facets of life: financial, spiritual, relational, mental, and physical. I wouldn’t want a lot of money if it meant losing my family. I wouldn’t want a lot of money if it meant giving up on my health.

Happiness is a choice. Money is merely a tool and your attachment and views towards it can affect your way of living.

Kevin 2010/05/17 at 2:22 pm

You hit the nail on the head, Bern–money is a tool. I think that’s the point we can so easily miss when we’re out chasing money as a means to an end. It becomes a quest for an ever larger number that can never be reached, and stresses begin to develop as a result of the effort.

Dave 2010/05/17 at 9:38 pm

Money may not buy happiness, but knowing you are saving and making an attempt to curb your credit usage is a big step towards financial stability. And peace of mind can be interpreted as happiness!

Kevin 2010/05/18 at 5:43 am

Dave – I completely agree. But saving and reducing debt may bring satisfaction that comes more from a sense of responsibility, of doing the right thing and heading in the right direction than from a pure money standpoint. It’s an action step that defines what we’re doing, more so than what we have.

James 2010/05/18 at 4:23 pm

money can not buy long -term happiness but it can buy freedom and freedom is powerful.

money can allow you to provide for others and giving sure makes me happy.

the perfect storm is having money to support my family, friends and myself were we all still have our jobs and do our day to day but with considerable less stress and more of a giving attitude.

hermes handbags 2010/07/07 at 8:28 pm

Great post! Bob Proctor once told me in a coaching session that money can’t make you happy, but it can make you comfortable. I truly believe that. It’s the reason why we see some broke millionaires out there ““ people who have a lot of money but are unhappy.

I believe happiness comes from a balance of all facets of life: financial, spiritual, relational, mental, and physical. I wouldn’t want a lot of money if it meant losing my family. I wouldn’t want a lot of money if it meant giving up on my health.

Happiness is a choice. Money is merely a tool and your attachment and views towards it can affect your way of living.

Kevin 2010/07/07 at 8:42 pm

Yeah, the problem isn’t money itself, it’s when money becomes a be-all/end-all that detreacts from other aspects of life. At that point you can end up with a big pile of money and still be unhappy. So true, balance is the key!

Mark 2010/11/03 at 3:46 pm

Why we still tell our younger generation that money does not buy happiness is beyond me.

Why do we deny nature??

College? Just a front to earn more money. Just a way to have the 500k home, boat and retirement package that most desire.

Kevin 2010/11/03 at 4:04 pm

Mark – What you’re pointing out is the very reason why we need a counter message. The younger generation is buying into the message they’re hearing and seeing all the time.

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