This is an age old question. The obvious answer, of course, is no. However, comedians frequently point out that if you think money cannot buy you happiness then you’re not shopping in the right places!

In a recent article, I described how in many cases happiness frequently comes through a balancing act we perform on the dynamic tension between two competing desires. I also mentioned that happiness is not an end goal but rather a product of certain choices we make in life. Today, we look at the connection of happiness and money.

It should be obvious, but money in and of itself doesn’t bring lasting happiness. Sure, I’d be happy if I won a bunch of money in the lottery – but then if I sat around in a bank safe with the piles of cash I had won, that would get awfully boring in short order!

Of course, it’s not money itself we think will make us happy but rather what we can do with the money that we think will bring happiness. Unless you’ve already got a boatload of cash, you have probably fantasized about what you could do or buy if your “ship came in”.

Studies have shown that we humans can experience greater happiness – to a degree – when we have money. Noted economist and Princeton University researcher Daniel Kahneman has written that incomes up to $75,000 a year do increase levels of happiness but that income increases above that amount have negligible effects.

This makes sense when considering Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a certain level of money helps us attain our basic needs – physiological, safety and security, etc. When we move into Maslow’s higher needs of self-actualization, our desires become more about how we live our lives rather than surrounding ourselves with physical things.

Psychologists Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton in their recent book “Happy Money: the Science of Smarter Spending” make the argument that money can contribute to happiness depending upon how we spend it. Here are some tidbits from their book on how to increase happiness through money as shown through various psychological studies:

  • Money is better spent on experiences than on stuff. We quickly grow bored with new things but our experiences grow more memorable in time. And, they bring even more happiness if they involve others whom we care about!
  • Money is better spent on occasional treats that break up the routine.
  • Money is better spent on things that free up our time (such as labor saving devices). However, happiness is also increased when that free time is used in the company of family and friends and in the service of others.
  • Money is better spent when we prepay now for experiences later. Think about paying for your vacation and then showing up and enjoying it knowing it’s already paid for!
  • Money is better spent when we buy things for others than for ourselves. Our investing in others, connects us to them on a deeper level.

So what’s the bottom line here? Can money buy us happiness? Money can help us meet our basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, health care and a sense of security. But beyond buying our basic needs, more money, in and of itself, doesn’t make us happier. There is a point where our accumulation of money adds little to our levels of happiness. Yet money can be a tool for increasing our happiness when it’s used in certain ways – allowing us to experience the diversity and variety of life on earth and enhancing our sense of connectedness to others. Money, coupled with the right intentions, can assist in our meeting needs of self-actualization (becoming all we can be) and self transcendence (feeling a sense of connectedness to life beyond our individual self).

Money, coupled with misguided intentions, can frequently brings short-term levels of happiness. Psychologists have pointed out that buying new things brings us temporary happiness, but such happiness quickly dissipates in time. Think back to something you really wanted – then when you got it you were excited and happy but then the excitement wore off. We then moved on to some new desire so that we could get the quick burst of happiness once again! Sort of sounds like a drug?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we should not live an abundant and prosperous life. I think everyone should have the opportunity to be prosperous in whatever terms is appropriate for them. What I see as problematic is where someone gets locked into a sense of chasing money for the sake of being more wealthy and powerful where that never-ending chase leads them away from their life’s purpose or causes harm to others.

We all know people who have gotten so absorbed into making money simply for the sake of making money that they’ve forgotten the true value of life. They have buried their special gift and talent and forgotten how they are interconnected to others to such a degree that they are unfortunately potentially harming themselves. They see life as a competitive game in which they are out to win at all cost. They have forgotten that life is a cooperative process where we are here to win and help each other to win.

What does this information offer us about our collective evolution? Are there choices we should be making that would be in our higher and best interest through our use of money?

Here are my thoughts:

We should see money as one part of the prosperous life which we deserve, but that prosperity also includes loving relationships, interesting life experiences, and being of service to others.

In our attaining money, we should never harm others.

We should let go of the desire to attain money simply to have more money. To quote the Bible,” the love of money is the root of all evil.”

We should see money as a tool, not as an end goal.

We should use money as a tool first to meet our basic needs

We should then use money as a tool to meet our higher needs. These include creating a rich and diverse set of life experiences, allowing us to live our life’s passion, connecting us to those important others in our lives and allowing us to be of service to a greater cause.

Ultimately, money should be seen as a tool that can increase the happiness and quality of life not just for a few but for everyone everywhere.

What do you think?

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!