How Money Does Not Increase Happiness.

And why to be wary of the thought that more money is better.

image by Micheile Henderson from

Contrary to our culture’s popular belief that more is better, especially with regards to money, several studies show this actually isn’t so. And that surprisingly, it’s even the opposite.

Study after study has shown that contrary to what we assume, the more money people make, the less they actually enjoy their life outside of work.

So, why then have we all been conditioned to believe that money buys happiness?

And, if that isn’t so, why are so many of us still chasing this idea?

And, how can it be that this adage is so incorrect?

As a culture, we are continually urged to buy and consume. More, more, more. From the Super Size option at McDonald’s, to the double D breasts one can now purchase. The most monstrous SUV to the biggest and “best” juked out beach house along the ocean strip.

We want it all. More of it, bigger, swankier, pricier.

Much of this stems from a place emotionally of “keeping up with the Jones’s,” so the speak. None of these things actually increase our happiness or sense of fulfillment over the long term. Instead, we experience a short burst of satisfaction and thrill over the novel item we have acquired. And we feel (temporarily) as if we are “good enough,” like our peers and neighbors, in measuring this by our material goods, our looks, or our status (instead of, say, the content of our inner character).

However, an important thing: this soon dies down and out. Leaving us at the same relative level of happiness we were before.

Yes, you read that right. You return, emotionally, to the same spot you were before in a bit of passing time following acquiring whatever you “so” needed to be happier and feel better about yourself.

What does make people happy?

Interpersonal relationships, and experiences. These are two of the richest sources of fulfillment and joy in life.

Interpersonal relationships are what life is all about. Look at any movie, book, song, poem, you name it. One of the main topics focused on is love. And while it’s usually romantic love we profess about and obsess over, platonic love (as in, close friends or deep ties to great family members, are equally as fulfilling).

What reduces the stress of our lives, what causes us to feel supported and loved, what helps us feel understood, is a major source of fun in our life, as well as can be inspiration and spawning’s of growth, all of this comes from the high-quality interpersonal relationships of our life.

Experiences. This can be traveling to an awe-inspiring locale, taking an engaging class, reading a thought-changing (aka, life-changing) book, learning something new, eating a mouthwateringly delicious meal, going on a heart-pumping adventure with someone you love, feeling swept off your feet by the gesture of a romantic love. These are the things we remember.

The aspects of life which make our hearts swell are those that burn themselves into our memories. Our experiences. These can be both major moments, as well as smaller seeming ones.

Not what brand of shirt we wear, how many followers we have on Instagram, how flat our stomach is, or how much our car cost.

The aspects of life that we will revisit time and time again over the years, smiling with nostalgia, longing, and wonder as we do so, are memorable moments, and oftentimes, with people we cherished.

Money is not involved in either of those. While yes, money often helps to fund experiences, it isn’t necessarily a crucial aspect of them. Experiences can be just as emotionally moving and memorable and cost absolutely nothing. A moment of deep connection with someone you love, laughing a lot, witnessing spectacular scenery, feeling incredibly loved by someone special in your life, reading a great book from the library. So much richness of life doesn’t cost anything at all.

And in fact, studies show that over-focus on money can take away from these very things.

And that additionally, in some ways, it decreases happiness.

It’s true, there is a minimal amount of money that one needs to feel secure and live a decent life. If a person lives in poverty, this is immensely stressful and certainly detracts from the quality of one’s life, in more ways than one. However, assuming one has an average salary on which to live, has their basic needs met (food, decent shelter, health insurance), with a little bit leftover, this is what one needs to be happy.

And numerous studies show that once someone makes more money than this, their happiness levels do not increase.

They may feel a short boost of thrill, but this subsides soon thereafter.

And it is then usually replaced by a hunger for even more money (a subconscious yearning to feel that same boost again).

Here are several reasons why money does not increase happiness:

As humans, we tend to always want more. We often think, once I get that raise, then I will be happy. Once I am making $100k instead of $80k, then I will be happy. Shocker? Not so. You may experience a temporary surge of excitement and satisfaction when it initially happens. Then, your happiness level will peter back out and return to whatever it was before. Nothing really changes.

— Many people think they want to make more money in order to be able to enjoy their lives outside of work further (better vacations, more material goods, etc). In fact, though, study after study has shown that the more money people make, the less time they have to enjoy their life outside their job. With more money often comes longer hours, greater responsibility, far more expectations, stress, and pressure. Companies use money as the dangling carrot to entice people to put in more hours. This leaves less and less time to actually revel in and experience your life outside of work.

A study by Berkeley showed that money actually brings unhappiness. In a Capitalist society, people generally believe that richer is better, but that is not what this study found at all. You can read time and time again, of the rich man or woman who “has it all,” in terms of money and material goods, and yet the rest of their life is empty. Void of meaningful connections or much joy outside of work, because they don’t tend to have time for any of it. They’ve chosen their job and money as the priority. So while they have loads of cash, they are lonely and mostly unhappy. This is of course, not a blanket truth of the rich. Not even close. But it tends to be accurate often enough.

— There is also research on the impact of money on our overall happiness over the big picture. Princeton researcher and 2002 Novel Prize winner, Kahneman (Ph.D.) says that money does not bring about happiness. That people overrate the joy-inducing effect of money. He says that increases in income have a relatively brief effect on life happiness, as well as psychological studies showing that the wealthier people are, the more intense negative emotions they experience.

So, as you can see, all of these studies do not link wealth with a greater incidence of happiness.

Yes, having enough to live on with a bit left over to do some things you enjoy, this is important in terms of feeling joy, a sense of security, and satisfaction with life. Not having enough money to live on is distressing, dangerous, and even life-ruining.

However, past that point, more money adds nothing to your overall life satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness.

In many ways, it can even take away from or decrease it.

Be careful when you feel yourself hungering for more and more. There is a good chance you are focusing on the wrong life priorities if this is the case. Ones that will not bring you fulfillment to any lasting or resounding degree.

Instead, focus on the wonder of being alive, of experiencing life day-to-day. Being alive is rather astounding and miraculous, in and of itself.

Whether that’s being fully present during the moment while kissing someone you love. Witnessing a jaw-dropping, gorgeous natural scene, or eating an incredible meal. Shooting down the mountain on skis, the sweet solitude, arresting scenery, and adrenaline from the speed, all rushing through you. Feeling a deeply resonating and fulfilling moment of connection with someone for whom you care. Hugging and holding your beloved pet. Being engaged in an activity that fills you will passion, joy, and a sense of meaning. Reading a book that either inspires or grips you. The list goes on.

What makes our lives most fulfilling and joyous are great relationships and memorable experiences.

These are the types of moments (not the number on your paycheck, or the fanciest pair of shoes, or the fastest car, all of which lose their appeal after that short, momentary burst that happens on initially receiving it) that bring both happiness in the moment and major life satisfaction overall.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

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