Can Money Buy Happiness?

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“Money can’t buy happiness” is a well-known saying, but it’s not entirely true. In fact, research out of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School showed that people with annual incomes of $75,000 and above are more likely to be satisfied with their lives compared with those who make less. While money can’t buy emotional connections or feelings of eternal bliss, it can definitely buy a number of things that would give anyone short-term happiness.

Think about some of the most basic items we buy, like food, clothing, and entertainment. Food can make you instantly feel good. After a long day of school or work, grabbing a bite to eat with friends will put anyone in a good mood. Treating yourself to a new outfit can also increase happiness. And one of the biggest sources of joy is entertainment. Whether it’s going to see the newest movie, reading a book, or paging through a magazine—like this one!—tuning in can increase your happiness. The catch? All of these must be paid for with money.

Furthermore, money gives you the ability to buy presents for loved ones, and those gifts can sure make people happy. (Think about how cheery people are during the holiday season!) As a bonus, seeing delight on the receiver’s face can also bring the gift-giver joy. It’s a win for everyone involved!

However, if you really want to make yourself happier, researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School have figured out what you should actually spend your money on to increase happiness: time. Their study found that across a range of incomes, jobs, and countries, using services that help save you time (such as paying someone to run an errand for you) leads to less stress and more positive feelings than purchasing material objects. So even if money can’t directly buy long-term contentment, it can be enough to make anyone happy—at least for a day or two.

When does a person achieve happiness? When he or she truly loves life. That’s a feeling that can’t be bought. Sure, money can buy you material possessions, but in the end those objects are just temporary—they don’t change who you are. Being rich seems like it should bring you happiness, but money doesn’t necessarily make people content, according to a study from the American Psychological Association. What does: freedom and personal autonomy, which are things that can’t be bought.

It’s easy to think that you would be happier if you experienced a major windfall, such as your family winning the lottery. You’d be able to buy yourself a new car and expensive clothes, and you could move to a big, beautiful house—sounds great, doesn’t it? However, you’d look outside your window to see that all your new rich neighbors have even larger mansions, leaving you feeling like you need to continue spending to keep up with those around you. Researchers call this the “hedonic treadmill”: As a person accumulates more money, their desires and expectations rise along with their wealth, so they never actually feel content with what they have.

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Besides, money can be polarizing. Even if you have a lot, many other people don’t. Some friends might feel uncomfortable around you if they can’t keep pace with your expensive way of living, which could lead to lost relationships and loneliness. Others might pretend to like you for your personality so that they can hang out with you and benefit from your lavish lifestyle. And while money can buy many good things in life, some people could get carried away if they have too much of it. For example, they may end up using the money poorly, such as by spending it on alcohol and drugs.

The idea that money can buy happiness? That’s an illusion. If anything, an excessive amount could have the opposite effect.

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