Does Happiness Have A Price Tag?


Can money buy you happiness? A lot of people says “No” but what we do not know is that how we use our money can have a dramatic impact on our happiness. There is a captivating quote in William Somerset Maugham’s novel “Of Human Bondage” , a novel, widely admired as a masterpiece of 20th century literature : “Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.”  An interesting way of looking at it, in my opinion.

So, can money buy happiness? Thinkers, philosophers and psychologists have debated this topic throughout the ages. Indeed, it is a topic of fascination for almost everyone.  And while it is an absorbing thought it is also a complex one. Everything is relative and the answer to our question is not so straight forward as it may seem. The tantalizing question remains- Can it, really?

Over the last decade or so, the field of psychology turned towards exploring the idea of what makes people feel fulfilled and happy.  The Positive Psychology Movement produced numerous researches looking at things such as happiness, health and general well-being.  Interestingly, almost all of this academic work explored the relationship between money and happiness and having a positive outlook on life. Trying to better understand this relationship, the effect of money on our lives is unquestionably important if we want to be healthier and happier!

We can look at happiness in two distinct ways. These can be described as whole life satisfaction or a type of emotional state that oscillates, what can be described as moment-to-moment moods.
There is a key concept in happiness economics called the Easterlin Paradox. The economist and professor Richard Easterlin argued that economic and happiness data suggested a “paradox” that increased income after a certain point did not increase well-being. He was convinced that when a society reaches a certain economic level, money contributes less in the pursuit of happiness that other societal factors.

Some researchers, including Professor Justin Wolfers, are convinced that the link between money and happiness is unbreakable and that wealthy people are simply happier than poor people. His exact words are: “It may be that the relationship is not between your income and the number of iPhones you can buy; it’s about the choices you can make.” This appears to be touching the earlier idea of Somerset Maugham .And, this point of view reminds me the philosophical position of the great American author and 19th century philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life”.

According to the First World Happiness Report 2012 “Happier countries tend to be richer countries. But more important for happiness, then income are social factors like the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom.”

Of course it is easy to believe that material riches must make us happy. But do they? On some level and up to a point… it is probably so. It certainly causes genuine happiness to be able to provide medical help for your family, to own your own house without rent or mortgage, to be able to travel, not having to worry about where to find money for your or your children’s education, etc… But, in reality, when we truly start to believe that money directly determines happiness, life becomes a race of “constant wants”. I find myself in agreement with Martin Seligman, father of the Positive Psychology Movement: ”As you accumulate more material possessions and accomplishments, your expectations rise. The deeds and things you worked so hard for no longer make you happy; you need to get something even better to boost your level of happiness.”

To attempt to form a plausible hypothesis we must examine the countless theories, read the studies, reflect upon the abundant research, listen to the opinions. I have also tried to balance this with my own beliefs, trying always to be honest with myself in the search for, to me, a satisfactory answer to the question of whether money can buy or guarantee happiness… I conclude that happiness has no price tag and comes from within, not from the possessions.