Can Money Buy You Happiness?

yes, no, maybe so?

4 years ago

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happiness exists not in the present reality but in the reflections of our minds, the feeling of a day well spent, and the love we hold for others

The Eternal Question

Throughout modern history, society has continually struggled with the indisputable importance of monetary wealth . Even in ancient times, from the great Roman empire to Tsarist Russia, money and its functional equivalent have played a crucial role in determining one’s quality of life and the opportunities afforded to them. Yet, behind the thin veil of consumerism and the false promises of material success, history also shows an important reminder: that money is not the infinite answer to fulfillment and happiness. Rather, happiness is a relative term, defined more by our experiences, relationships, and internal identity than by net worth or the numbers in a bank account.

To An Extent

However, it would be naive and baselessly idealistic to not acknowledge the powerful yet limited impact that money can have in our lives. Money can open doors, provide peace of mind and relative comfort, and most importantly, fulfill our primal need as human beings for freedom, a crucial component of a happy and satisfying life. Without freedom––chained to the limitations of poverty and financial constraints––many never have the liberty of looking beyond their basic needs and societal obligations, like putting food on the table or paying rent. When money becomes your most primary concern and a binding factor in your life, one that keeps you up at night and drives you to work in the morning out of necessity, I make the case that money can buy you happiness. The reality is that in these circumstances, money becomes almost synonymous with happiness. Furthermore, by structuring our society upon capitalism and the free market, we have undoubtedly reached new heights of economic prosperity and potential, but we have also perpetuated unhappiness in the lowest ranks of the population. By assigning subjective worth to slips of paper we call “money”, we make money an undeniable and prominent factor in determining happiness.

Money Only Goes So Far

With this in mind, I think money’s relation to happiness is more asymptotical. Yes, money can fulfill our basic needs and open the doors to self-actualization, but it can only go so far. Beyond the superficial and fundamental, money approaches the ever-complex asymptote of human life, where happiness is formed through purpose, love, acceptance, authenticity, and countless other intrinsic qualities of our psyche. These qualities, summed up into a biological need for connection and fulfillment from others, are considerably harder to achieve than simple monetary wealth, and require a lifelong dedication and a commitment to achieving the perfect self. Without this drive for what I call “emotional” or “personal” happiness and when the aims of life are based solely in arbitrary estimations like the number of houses you own or what class you fly in, true happiness, seen only in retrospect and with age, becomes an absolute impossibility.

Conversely, I think that happiness is possible without money, even at the most striking extremes. Throughout the world, we can see people living in the harshest of conditions and circumstances, yet proclaiming happiness against all odds. How can this be so, that some of the optimistic and contented people, exist without the materialistic parts of life that we so often take for granted? I think the answer lies in human nature’s astonishing ability to adapt and acclimate: we have a natural tendency to search for happiness wherever it exists. These rare individuals, by focusing on community, simplicity, and the value of hard-work, have developed a culture of happiness completely independent from the effects of money. This incredible achievement, present in many cultures outside the western world, sets a powerful testament to the possibility of a future that places humanitarianism and the collective good above the role of money, creating a society whose happiness is based in character and values.

It's About The People

Returning to the original question, “Can Money Buy You Happiness?”, I encourage the reader to reflect on the best moments of your own life. Chances are these moments, which inspire nostalgia and bring an uncontrollable smile to our faces, revolve around the people and experiences closest to us, not the money it took to get there. I cannot proclaim to know the secret of happiness in the 16 years I have lived so far, but I do think that, beyond a certain threshold of basic needs, this mystical, ever so elusive idea of happiness exists not in the present reality but in the reflections of our minds, the feeling of a day well spent, and the love we hold for others. Maybe this is my youthful optimism speaking or the naivety of a teenager yet to be released into the “real world”, but it is the one that I carry with me, as a guiding light and a constant reminder of what really matters.

Sunshine bath
Photo by Zac Durant / Unsplash

Lucas Bernicker

Published 4 years ago