github twitter linkedin hacker news goodreads angel list email pgp key rss
Money And Happiness

This post is an observation; NOT a how-to.

You must have heard rich people say “Money does not buy you happiness”. They say this as a complaint rather than as a fact. The rest reply “Yeah right! Give me a chance to prove that wrong”.

Why do we even think that money and happiness are related?

Sure, money prevents certain types of unhappiness resulting from certain types of s(h)ituations:

  • evicted again for not paying rent
  • only child dying, lacking basic medical care
  • bad debt ending in blown knee caps
  • unable to afford college, day-care, food…
The list truely is endless…

But not being in these “if only I had money” situations doesn’t seem to make people happy. It will keep you from those specific worries but doesn’t seem to do much good as you go forth and worry about the next possible thing (a dent in the left corner of the rear fender in your ferrari?).

No one counts the blessings. May be we humans are not wired that way? Or may be we have set up the game (a.k.a: society, civilization, market) in such a way that counting exisiting blessings and being happy is impossible? Animals seem to be doing just okay. Even the chimps, with whom we share 98% of the DNA, seem to be doing better. (Or may be they are not - and we are culturally too different to understand it).

[I have a strange thought now. I haven’t seen the movie ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ yet. May be they’ve covered these there? That will suck! :-) Hmmm. I should see it soon.]

Money can make people “un-unhappy”. This does not mean “happy”. Mind seems to have an “okay, what else is wrong?” magnet. new acronym: oweiw? :-p

The strength of this cursed oweiw magnet varies from person to person. Over a period of several years, I’ve tried and cultivated healthy thought processes that have weakened this magnet. But I am not done yet. Far from it! Most people seem to be held at gunpoint by the magnet and they seem to be oblivious to this root cause of their troubles.

Is ‘loving and being loved’ the area you should focus on instead of ‘trying to buy happiness’. This seems true to me. People who think that they have no one to love them are certainly unhappy, irrespective of their bank balance. Who is happier: a penniless young couple crazily in love or a rich stock broker who just found out that his wife has cheated him with each and every ‘friend’ of his, except his dog?

But then, who is happier: a young couple crazily in love whose child goes hungry in the night or a young couple crazily in love whose child gets a good meal three times a day?

Money seems to be very important. But only until the basic needs are met. After that, the law of diminishing returns seems to kick in.

It seems that we can work towards being a happier person. The effort in this direction includes daring to give and receive love, nourishing friendships (all relationships need work), spending time with family AND making money that will avoid shituations.

But then, you may love with all your heart and end up getting your heart trampled with stiletto heels. Can’t you be truely happy without depending on someone for love? I am not wondering if you should live in a shell and not love - for fear of getting hurt. Thats absurd; everyone knows that. I am wondering if people can be truly happy, all by themselves, while also being open to love. Okay, I am digressing here.

Another interesting thing I observed was that worry about money masks other “real worries”. May be this is why couples who start out poor and become rich look back and feel nostalgic. They were united in their worry about whether they can make their next mortgage payment. Now they worry about: if they really love each other, if this is the life they really want, what the purpose of their life is, if their life is meaningless, if they have wasted it etc. Interesting thing is that, the same issues existed even when they were poor. But back then, they were united (and were happy in that sense) like a country in war with a powerful neighbor.

I am not proposing that you should not care about money after your basics needs are met. I am just saying that money is simply one of the many things you need to take care of. There are several other things to take care of too. Think of the lonely rock stars past their prime.

Try to make trillions - but don’t expect it to buy you happiness. Happiness needs effort in various other aspects of your life too. May be you are neglecting them in pursuit of money, instead of intelligently balancing them?

But then, there are infinite number of things beyond your control. You can do everything right and be crippled for life by a drunken driver. May be the fatalists are right? Well, what do we care even if they are right? :-)

4 comments
Ruchi wrote on Apr 19, 2007:
Money doesn't buy you happiness directly but it does let you buy things that bring happiness.
So pursuit of money is pursuit of happiness but the pursuit needs to be kept in check by the time available to make use of that money...to buy the happiness.
No fun when you have money and no time to spend it. This time can be your young age when you neglected to woo your love or your child's graduation that you missed et al.
Right Dude?
Kirubakaran wrote on Apr 22, 2007:
Ruchi,

I agree with most part of your comment except: "...but it does let you buy things that bring happiness..."

In my opinion, "buying things that bring happiness" is a slippery slope with diminishing returns.

Other than that, you are right on!
kb wrote on May 08, 2007:
Money does not buy happiness. Buying things beyond my basic needs does not bring me happiness. Ok...I do like my car, A lot...but in general gadgets don't fill my soul.

I don't believe that money changes a person. I feel money is a vehicle that allows a person to demonstrate who they really are. Are they truly charitable or do they just talk about charity. Money does relieve a person of financial worries. Money serves no purpose if someone is sick and money can't buy a solution. Then you need to look to a higher power than the ole mighty buck.

I have always been happy even when there has been very little money.
KB wrote on May 08, 2007:
And another thought. If you work hard to pay for the little trinkets in life, the reward of possesion is much sweeter. So it could be said that having money and things brings less happiness. Just a though.