Have you ever heard someone say money can’t buy happiness? Are they right? What does that phrase even mean?
Well, in layman’s terms, it’s an adage that happiness doesn’t come from material possessions like an expensive car but instead from things money can’t buy, such as true friends and genuine love.
It’s the idea that aside from being able to pay your bills and provide for your family, more money doesn’t equal more happiness.
But is it true? Does it just depend on who you ask? Someone struggling to make ends meet may mock the idea that money can’t buy happiness, while others may agree. So, who’s right?
In this article, we’ll discuss both sides of the debate by looking at the reasons money can and can’t buy happiness and examining the research. We’ll also answer frequently asked questions about money, happiness, and much more.
Can Money Actually Buy Happiness?
Even with research and countless studies on this topic, there is no clear answer if money can actually buy happiness. The most annoying but accurate answer is that it depends.
For instance, can money buy someone happiness who is struggling to put food on the table and can’t keep the lights on? Sure it can.
Can more money buy someone happiness who already has a big bank balance but no real friends, low self-worth, and a poor mindset? Well, not exactly.
That said, you may have to answer the question for yourself. Think about times in your life when you were the happiest and consider what they resulted from.
Were they a result of spending time with your loved ones, pursuing something meaningful, helping others, etc.? Or were they a result of buying that new car, an expensive watch, or other material possessions?
Asking yourself this question may give you just the answer you’re looking for.
Whatever your conclusion is, let’s now discuss some reasons money won’t buy you happiness. We’ll then follow them up with some reasons it will.
Why Money Can’t Buy Happiness
While material possessions may bring you temporary joy, they don’t provide long-lasting happiness. So, before you put money above all else, check out these 11 reasons why money can’t buy happiness:
1. Money Can’t Buy Mental or Physical Health
While money may allow you to afford a gym membership and better food, it can only go so far, especially if you’re not prioritizing it.
Even if you’re one of the wealthiest people in the world (i.e., Steve Jobs), you can’t buy good health. In fact, studies have found that many wealthy people in rich countries are in poor health.
This is mainly due to neglecting their health in the pursuit of money, which is never a wise idea. The money they earn will never make up for their lack of living a healthy lifestyle.
Even if you use one of the apps that pay you to walk, you should always take care of your health! If you’re not healthy, you’re less likely to be happy.
2. Money Can’t Buy You Fulfillment
Money can’t buy fulfillment, meaning, or purpose in our lives, no matter how much we’re willing to pay. In fact, some of the most unfulfilled people are rich.
All three of these come from a variety of things, like focusing on others, reaching our goals, being grateful, connecting to something larger than ourselves, and doing satisfying work, but not from money.
While you may earn money from doing something like satisfying work, it’s the work itself that will provide you with fulfillment. The money is just the cherry on top.
3. Money Can’t Buy Real Friends
If the saying “money can’t buy happiness” is right about one thing, it’s real friends. According to Stanford Medicine, “good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life.”
While money may help you get into specific social circles and attract people who want to be around you for your wealth, it will never replace genuine relationships built on things that truly matter.
And someone who is your real friend won’t care how much money you make or what you’re net worth is.
That said, if you do have a lot of money, an easy way to avoid fake friends is to practice stealth wealth. This way, you won’t have to worry about people trying to get close to you for nothing but your money.
4. Money Can’t Buy Self-Worth or Self-Esteem
Your self-worth is not your net worth. No amount of money will result in high self-esteem, nor will it help fill any gap.
Whether you have a lot of money or just a little, you’ll always risk being taken advantage of or exploited if you have low self-worth.
Both self-esteem and self-worth can only be built by doing things and engaging in behaviors that make you feel better about yourself. Money can only be used to cover it.
5. Money Can’t Buy You Knowledge or Wisdom
Knowledge and wisdom can’t be bought like an expensive car can. Knowledge comes from dedicating time to learning, and wisdom comes from life experiences.
While someone may have a lot of money if they win the lottery, they can only gain knowledge and wisdom from spending countless hours learning new things and growing as a person.
6. Money Can’t Buy You Genuine Love
Like real friends, money can’t buy you genuine love from a significant other, and the last thing you want is a partner who only loves you for your money.
You want someone who loves you for your heart, generosity, sense of humor, honesty, and everything else about you that truly matters.
When conflict arises in your love life, which it will, it’s mutual love and respect, not money, that will sustain your relationship and maintain your satisfaction.
7. Money Can’t Buy Good Character
Another reason money can’t buy happiness is because it doesn’t build your character. If you’re unkind, selfish, judgmental, bossy, and arrogant, a lot of money won’t make a difference. In fact, it may just make your character flaws worse.
Having good character comes down to your values, beliefs, and motivations for acting the way you do, not how much money you have or make.
8. Money Can’t Buy a Positive Mindset
Your mindset plays a significant role in your level of happiness, and no amount of money will change it.
If you’re a pessimist and glass-half-empty type of person without a lot of money, it’s likely you would still be that way even if you were super wealthy.
Adopting a positive mindset is something that comes within, and only you can change. No external force, like having a big bank balance, will do it for you.
9. Money Can’t Buy You Extra Time
Regardless of how much money you or I have, one thing we all share is a limited time on earth. While time may be our most valuable asset, we can’t buy or sell it no matter how much we’re willing to pay.
Once our time is up, we also can’t bring all the meaningless material possessions we accumulated with us. So think twice before you spend all of your time pursuing money.
10. Money Can’t Buy the Respect of Others
The respect of others can’t be bought with money alone; it must be earned. While some people may act like they respect you if you’re wealthy for their own self-interests, genuine respect is a result of your character.
To gain the respect of others, you need to be humble, keep your promises, be hardworking, have a moral code, be kind, and so on.
Simply put, people will respect you if you’re a good role model and a true leader. Not because of some inaccurate preconceived notion of who you are as a person just because you have money.
11. Money Can’t Buy a Successful and Good Life
To wrap up all the reasons money can’t buy happiness, most importantly, it can’t buy you a good and successful life.
While it may help you fake a happy life, if you’re not healthy, unfulfilled, don’t have real friends, have a poor mindset, and have bad character, there’s nothing money can do.
As Will Smith once said, “Money and success don’t change people; they merely amplify what is already there.”
If you’re already miserable, more money will only make it worse. If you’re not a good person, more money will only make you a worse person, and so on.
12. More Ways Money Can’t Buy Happiness
Here are a few more reasons money doesn’t buy happiness, which didn’t make our list but are still worth mentioning:
- You’ll always want more: The hedonic treadmill is the idea that the human tendency is to pursue one pleasure after another. If money is your source of pleasure (happiness), you’ll never have enough.
- Material possessions don’t make us happy: While a flashy new watch may create temporary joy, it won’t provide long-lasting happiness.
- Money won’t solve your problems: Even if you had all the money in the world, you would still have problems like everyone else. In fact, you may even have more.
- More money means more expenses: Lifestyle inflation is a real thing. The more you earn, the more you’re likely to spend. Many people earning 6 figures or more still live paycheck to paycheck.
- More you own, more you clean & organize: Taking care of stuff is time-consuming. The more physical possessions have, the more you’ll spend time cleaning and organizing your home.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness But…
While there are many compelling arguments that money doesn’t buy happiness, research shows that money can positively impact your overall life satisfaction if used correctly.
For example, having enough money to build an emergency fund will prevent the stress involved with unexpected financial emergencies like losing your job.
That said, here are a few things that money can buy that do contribute to happiness:
Money Can Reduce Financial Stress
As previously mentioned, money can reduce financial stress if used properly. According to CNBC, 73% of Americans say the number 1 stressor in their lives is related to their finances.
That said, aside from building an emergency fund, if appropriately used, having money can prevent you from living paycheck to paycheck, allow you to pay off debt, save for retirement, and much more, all of which reduce financial stress.
The less you have to worry about problems associated with money, the happier you’re likely to be.
Money Can Buy Activities You Love
The more money you have, the more you can spend on activities and hobbies that you love and bring you joy, such as painting, fishing, cooking, camping, snowboarding, gardening, golfing, drawing, sports, hiking, etc.
And sometimes these hobbies are relatively expensive, and if you don’t have enough money to afford them, you’re kind of out of luck.
For example, if golfing makes you happy, you will need enough money to afford it. In this case, having enough money to golf is, in some sense, buying happiness.
Simply put, happiness comes from doing things we love, and sometimes those things can be pretty expensive.
Money Can Help Others
The more disposable income you have, the more you can help others by giving back through charitable donations and so on.
According to Utah State University, a 2008 study found that giving to charities makes people happier than if they spend all their money on themselves.
In fact, the last of Dave Ramsey’s 7 baby steps is to give back, which I really love. Ramsey believes that once you’ve built wealth, there is no better feeling than helping others.
Money Can Buy More Time With Loved Ones
While we mentioned that money can’t buy you more time on earth, it can buy you more time with your loved ones, and as studies show, it increases your happiness.
For instance, someone who is struggling to get by and, as a result, has to work two jobs only has so much time to spend with their family and friends.
On the other hand, someone with all the money in the world has the freedom to quit their job and spend every waking hour with loved ones if they choose to.
Furthermore, someone with a lot of money can also outsource tasks like house chores. Not only does this allow them to eliminate tasks that don’t make them happy, but it also grants them more time to do something they enjoy.
Money Can Buy More Experiences
While material possessions won’t create long-term happiness, experiences with your loved ones will.
The more money you have, the more you can travel, go on vacation, attend concerts and festivals, etc., with your family and friends.
Not only will these experiences bring you happiness in the moment, but having memories with your loved ones to look back on will bring you happiness as well.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness Quotes
Here are some famous quotes about money and happiness. Some support the idea that money can buy happiness, while others don’t.
“It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy.”
—George Horace Lorimer
“Money Doesn’t buy happiness, but happiness isn’t everything.”
“Money is numbers, and numbers never end. If it takes money to be happy, your search for happiness will never end.”
“Anybody who thinks money will make you happy, hasn’t got money.”
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.”
—Clare Boothe Luce
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions about money and happiness:
Who Said Money Can’t Buy Happiness?
While there’s no consensus on who first said “money can’t buy happiness,” the Genevan philosopher, composer, and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, did coin a similar phrase in 1750.
He said, “Money buys everything, except morality and citizens.”
There have also been many other variations of the phrase used as well, such as “money can’t buy friends,” “money can’t buy love,” “money can’t buy education,” and so on.
What Is Important in Life Money or Happiness?
Money and happiness are both important in life, but they aren’t equal. While money will allow you to provide for yourself and your family, it’s happiness that will make life worth living.
And although there may be a correlation between money and happiness, at the end of the day, money can’t buy health, genuine friends, real love, self-worth, fulfillment, and everything else that makes life meaningful.
So while pursuing wealth is okay, never put it above all else. Always stay grounded and remind yourself what truly matters.
Should You Marry for Money or Love?
If you want a long-lasting marriage, you should marry for love, not money. While marrying for money may provide you with financial benefits, money alone won’t create a happy marriage.
When conflict in your marriage arises, which it will, it’s mutual love and respect, not money, that will sustain your relationship and maintain marital satisfaction.
Final Thoughts on Money and Happiness
Now that you know some of the ways in which money can and can’t buy happiness, what do you think? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
I personally believe it’s much more complicated than just a simple yes or no answer. There are several great arguments on both sides of the debate and many factors to consider.
For instance, money is a tool, and when used wisely, it allows you to reach your financial goals, which will have an impact on your happiness.
This positive impact on your happiness may be associated with less stress regarding your finances, more time with your loved ones, more money to spend on experiences, and so on.
On the other hand, research has found that once your annual income reaches $105,000, any excess money is not associated with a higher level of life satisfaction.
So maybe we can safely say money does buy happiness but only up to a certain income level. Once you have enough money to cover necessities like paying your bills and putting food on the table, your happiness will be driven by other factors such as meaningful relationships, good health, a positive mindset, etc.