Can Money Buy Happiness?
Denying the value of material wealth is a common idea for numerous religious, spiritual, and subculture movements. Consumerism is often called “the plague of the 21st century,” and people who want to make a fortune are called spiritless and superficial. But is it impossible to find real happiness through money? I think that money can buy happiness but only under specific circumstances like specific priorities, personal qualities, and life goals.
If a person is indifferent to comfort or high life standards, then his or her happiness does not depend on material wealth. Money can buy happiness for people who seek for a better quality of life. Christopher Peterson, a former professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and author of the book The Good Life, claims in his article “Money and Happiness” that “income has a positive relationship with happiness (life satisfaction), although it is not a straight line.” Comfort can be one of the elements of happiness. Such people do not necessarily want to buy expensive yachts or live in private castles. Individuals can find joy in wearing high-quality clothes, eating delicious food, or traveling around the world.
But this rule works only in cases when three other conditions are met. The first and most significant of them is having good personal qualities. Although money can provide basic physiological and safety needs, such as food, water, warmth, rest, and security, they can’t help with psychological needs: intimacy, friendship, and the feeling of accomplishment. Without loving people and respect, a human being is no better than an animal. When someone’s whole life consists only of satisfying basic needs, they may achieve the highest level of comfort, not real happiness.
The second indispensable element of a happy personality is a stable mental state. Money will not save us from inner demons such as disorders, anxiety, obsessions, and addiction. Of course, a wealthy person can pay for treatment, but it does not guarantee that happiness can be achieved. Mental disturbances keep people isolated from normal social life, and it is harder to satisfy needs related to interactions with other human beings. Therefore, money can’t buy happiness for individuals who have poor mental health.
The highest quality of life can be achieved only if the self-actualization needs of the personality are also satisfied. According to Abraham Maslow, self-actualization needs are a desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming” (64). Making a fortune is not equal to realizing one’s potential or personal growth. But financial stability gives people the opportunity to focus on self-development without worrying about basic needs. In such cases, money is not the ultimate goal, but a helping tool.
Some people find happiness in changing the world for the better. They help others and want to leave a remarkable footprint in human history. They often become volunteers or founders of animal shelters, charitable foundations, or non-government environmental organizations. Can money buy happiness for such people? Like in the case with self-actualization, finances become the cane that a person can lean on while seeking for the main purpose.
The statement “money can’t buy happiness” is true and false at the same time. Although material wealth does not satisfy all the human needs like love, realizing one’s potential, or making a difference, it helps to achieve these goals. On the other hand, even a large sum of money is useless if a person is mentally unstable and suffers from psychological disorders.
Maslow, Abraham H. Motivation and Personality. Pearson Education, 1987.
Peterson, Christopher. “Money and Happiness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 8 June 2008, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-good-life/200806/money-and-happiness.
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