Can Money Buy Happiness?

Can money buy happiness?The rote answer – or old adage – is, “No.” Wealth does not equal bliss.

After a certain point, that is. Anyone who has tried to do without much of it knows that money is important. It gives you access to the things you need to survive (read: food, clothes, heat), and freedom to escape bad situations (read: health problems, an abusive partner, a job you hate).

Having it may not automatically guarantee a joy-filled existence, but not having it can certainly make your life difficult. Indeed, broadly speaking, people who have money are happier than those who struggle to get by.

But it’s not quite so simple as this. Obviously money must have some perks, or we wouldn’t work such long hours to get it every day. Yet, as Dan Gilbert, professor at Harvard and author of Stumbling on Happiness says, “Once you get basic human needs met, a lot more money doesn’t make a lot more happiness.” For several reasons:

  • Humans are adaptable. That promotion that seems life-changing when you receive it quickly becomes the new normal.
  • More money can bring more stress – in the form of extra responsibility or a longer commute to your fancy home.
  • There is always someone richer than you, and that comparison is a happiness killer.

So how much is enough? The magic yearly income seems to be $75,000 on average, after which emotional well-being improvements drop off. Though it varies by major metropolitan area. Residents of NYC, Philadelphia, LA, and Seattle hit peak happiness at $105,000, while people in the windy city reach it at $54,000. If you’re lucky enough to live in Atlanta, you can reach that goal at $42,000.

If you’ve already attained it (or that’s far from a realistic goal for you), here’s how to make the most of what you’ve got.

  • Buy experiences instead of things. The pleasure of a day trip is much longer lasting than a new top, which quickly becomes an old, unloved top clogging up your closet.
  • Get off the hedonic treadmill. Instead of buying new things, stop adapting to what you have. Learn to appreciate your things anew by swapping pictures on a wall, or depriving yourself of a possession for a certain period.
  • Give it away. Even a small amount donated to a cause you value can lift spirits.
  • Spend it on making your life easier. Outsource tasks you hate – like mowing the lawn – to someone else, and the windfall time you save can boost your happiness.

Now, don’t you feel better already?

Image by Burst.

 

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