Personal Improvement

It Turns Out Some Happiness Can Be Bought

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We’ve all been told that money can’t buy happiness. But is that true? It depends on your definition of happiness. It turns out some happiness can be bought.

If you define happiness as buying things, then no, most of us are not made happy by that. Buying things can give you a very short-term boost, but if it’s long-term happiness you’re after, and I think most of us are, materialism is not the way forward.

We’ve all done it. You see that thing, a new phone, a new pair of shoes, a new HD television, and you want it. Maybe you buy it and you get a little dopamine bump. But the bump is short lived.

As is probably the thing that you bought. You’ll want the next latest phone, the next pair of shoes, the next flatter screened television. And if you’ve blown you’re budget to buy the thing, the crash feels even worse because now you feel guilty or maybe even can’t pay an essential bill because of that purchase.

This type of buying does not buy happiness. But you can indeed buy happiness.

Money Is Choice

If we want to get ‘Merican” up in here, money is freedom. Perhaps our most dearly held tenet. Freedom takes lots of forms. Freedom to leave a job you hate. Freedom to leave a place you hate. Freedom to leave a relationship you no longer value.

To steer is heaven. To drift, hell.

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All of those things take money. Fuck you money I like to call it. Is your boss a super dick? Fuck you, I quit. New York winters last six months (the last time it was 70 degrees here was October, it’s now mid-April)? Fuck you, I’m moving south. Do you want to move your vile old hypochondriac mother in with us? Fuck you, I’m out!

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose but it’s also one of the few things in life that is really necessary to the mental and physical well being. It’s why people in prison tend not to thrive in either of those areas.

can money buy happiness experiances

Happiness Is Experiences

If you want to get the most bang happiness-wise, spend on experiences rather than things. Have you ever planned a vacation? I love doing this. And because I’m a planner, I like to have an itinerary. Where to go, what do to, where to eat. Mostly that last one. I love researching restaurants and local things to eat in new places.

All of my most memorable meals have been eaten while on vacation. Twenty-five cent raw oysters in New Orleans (the find of the century), beef cheeks and potatoes dauphinoise in Paris, goulash in Budapest.

I mapped these things out weeks before my trip which gave me plenty of time to anticipate them and anticipation, whether it’s culinary or sexual, is among life’s most delicious pleasures (I have never used money to purchase sexual pleasure but if you’re headed somewhere that you can legally do so, my all means, indulge).

One of the best days of my life was spent in the Hotel Gellert in Budapest. I enjoyed the mineral baths, a massage, a mud path, and later that day, climbed Gellert Hill which gives a stunning view of Budapest and the Danube below. That day cost me less than $18. No outfit, no pair of shoes, could even come close.

That trip was seven years ago and I can remember every detail. I couldn’t recall a single thing I purchased that long ago even under the threat of death.

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Wealth Is Convenience

Convenience isn’t an absolute necessity but it is nice to have. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive and I wrote an article on how you can do it on the cheap but it isn’t always convenient and fast. If you can afford to buy pre-chopped veg, for example, it does make cooking faster.

Hiring someone to clean your house and do your laundry is also a pretty easy way to buy happiness. While I enjoy cooking and wouldn’t spend the extra money on pre-prepped ingredients, I find no such joy in scrubbing floors or ironing shirts.

What this boils down to is that money buys you time. So if you can afford these things, you afford yourself more time to pursue things that you do find enjoyable.

can money buy happiness helping

Happiness Is Doing For Others

If you really want to maximize your happiness, don’t spend on yourself, give to others. And it doesn’t have to be money that you donate either.

A study found that Americans who ranked themselves as “very happy,” volunteered an average of 5.8 hours a month. Those who ranked themselves as “very unhappy,” volunteered just 0.6 hours a month.

There are benefits to giving money as well. Those who donated 10% of their income were found to have lower rates of depression than those who don’t donate at all.

The increase in happiness does not come from a one-off event, like donating blood or your one yearly shift at a food bank around the holidays. The effects are only felt when the giving is sustained over time.

Health And Happiness

The biggest factor to happiness is health. If you’re relatively healthy you might not think so but ask any person who suffers from a chronic condition. They would trade every last cent to be well.

You don’t have to be rich to be healthy, but it helps. More money buys higher quality food, higher quality doctors and sophisticated medical testing which can be the difference between an early diagnosis when something is treatable and a diagnosis that comes too late.

More money can also afford you better neighborhoods to live in with safer streets and cleaner air. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published a series of maps showing life expectancy differences between neighborhoods but in the same city.

New Orleans showed the starkest contrast with life expectancy differing by as much as twenty-five years between some areas. Twenty-five years is nearly a third of a lifetime, gone.

The pursuit of happiness was thought to be so important that our Founding Fathers enshrined it in our Constitution. So it’s your duty as an American to pursue it. And in good old egalitarian American fashion, any of us can pursue it, rather we have a lot of money or don’t. Check out this awesome infographic from Happify to find out how to get the most happiness bang for your buck.

can money buy happiness - infographic focus on experiences


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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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