Does money buy happiness?

(Part 1 of a 3 part series)

According to Harvard Medical School and recent psychology research, the things that make you happy are feeling good, doing good and engaging fully.

They also suggest three things that don’t make you happy: money and material things, youth and children.

Though I don’t disparage the former, I differ with the former. After all, when is the last time a stack of bills and a few new wrinkles brought a skip to my step? And though I may not be excited when my seven year old wakes me up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, his laughter and love are the consistent themes of joy in my life (of course, he hasn’t approached puberty yet, either).

Economist Richard Easterlin proposed a concept called the “Easterlin paradox” about 30 years ago, suggesting that people in poor countries are happier when their basic necessities are covered, but any money beyond that doesn’t make much difference in happiness level. In 2008, however, two University of Pennsylvania researchers showed that people in wealthier countries are happier in general.

The psychologist, whose services you might theoretically want to find happiness, or at least to overcome pain and sadness, costs money. Those without money, who can’t afford the $125+/hour fee, would have to resort to less costly self-help books to find inner bliss. Is that why an economist, who by definition practices frugality, says we don’t need money to be happy?

Who’s right?

Though we could argue that a new toy will bring us a lasting state of utopia, there are times when money affords us happier moments. I would also argue that not having enough money to pay bills can also cause undue stress (stress ≠ happiness)..

Poking fun at the juxtaposition of money and happiness, I’d like to weigh in with my unsupported and statistically invalid research of two homes.

My home(s)

My renovated kitchen. I suppose you could say that cooking makes me happy as opposed to my kitchen. But it’s a heckuva lot more fun to cook in my renovated kitchen than my last one, a tiny room with no counter space and black grout between the tiles (no matter how much bleach I used). And we all know that kitchen renovations don’t come cheap. At least not the one we did to ours about four years ago when the marketing business was booming.

My Whistler condo. When I lived in Seattle, I bought rental property in Whistler Village, British Columbia. It was a small one bedroom condo – only 600 square feet and wasn’t about to be featured in House Beautiful any time soon. But very few places or things on earth have brought so much fun, laughter, peace and happiness into my life – in the winter and summer, skiing down the slopes, biking the downhill trails, rollerblading along the paved paths in town or enjoying the Village shops and restaurants. Even despite the ER visits and concussions. (You’ll have to guess which caused what).

And though a lack of rental income caused me great stress after the Olympic bid was announced, the moments I spent in Whistler are some of the most memorable of my life. And though the price of real estate has dropped in recent years, it sure wasn’t (and isn’t) free!

My 30-year old stained carpet. I can say with grave certainty that my carpet does not make me happy. And no matter how many times I steam clean it, I don’t get any more jubilant at the sight or smell of it. Not only would hardwood floors make me happy, but it might possibly teach my dog Walden to poop outdoors. But even if I install them myself (which I may do before it’s all said and done), it takes cold, hard cash to buy wood.

Another home

Now I’ll switch to a home that belongs to friends of mine who we recently visited in California.

My long-time friend started his own business from scratch and sold it for millions. His wife is a now-retired physician who no longer needs to work because of the sold business. Their house – which I jokingly refer to as the Taj Bill – is lovely. There are few features the home fails to offer, including a game room, a movie theatre, gorgeous art, a swimming pool, a backyard sport court, 3D TV, multiple Sub Zero refrigerators, four cars and I lost track of how many bikes. And both Bill and his wife are just as kind and down-to-earth as when they lived in a small apartment in the Marina District of San Francisco.

Though expensive art might not make me happy forever, that lovely $175 painting I saw recently at a local gallery sure would bring a smile to my face if it lived on my living room wall. More importantly, I’ll bet my friend isn’t worried about what’s going to happen next month if he doesn’t find a new contract job (anxiety ≠ happiness).

Summary of Findings

In conclusion, money may not buy happiness, but it sure would buy that nice road bike I borrowed when in California. And just think of all the joy those rides would bring, in addition to the calories I’d burn!

Stay tuned for: If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Then What Does?

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.