Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Money Can't Buy Happiness - Or So Research Says

Dr. Arthur Stone, Psychologist and Researcher at The State University at Stony Brook, has discovered what philosophers have long known: Money doesn't make people happier.

In a study that appears in this month's Science , Dr. Stone along with researchers at Princeton University, the University of Michigan and the University of California in San Diego, explored the relationship between money and happiness.

"It's mostly illusory," Stone said. "When you look at people's actual experience, the rich are not happier than others. And if they are, it has little to do with the money they have."

I don't know if I completely agree.
I think that money can help lighten aspects of strain and anguish, poverty and despair. In turn, wouldn't that bring a sense of relief and joy? Maybe I am being too semantic about this.

What do you think?

Stone, A. (2006) Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer


Cheryl Fuller, Ph.D. said...

Thinking in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, certainly money helps in alleviating the problems associated with poverty by making life less about day to day survival. But I can see that more money does not necessarily lead to greater happiness because once those survival needs are met, the higher levels on the hierarchy come into play.

But then I suppose it all depends on how one defines happiness and whether or not happiness is meant to be a steady state in life.

staffpsy said...

most of the psychological research says the same thing. there was a huge article in 2004 that did a review of everything and concluded that money doesnt do anything to make people happier once they have their basic needs covered (food & shelter). It's an illusion that money can reduce stress and worry because most people want to live slightly above their current means and have stress about bills, property, health, etc regardless of income level.

Enigma said...

I think money it's self cannot bring joy or happiness.
However, I think in some situations it can to an extent bring some happiness... For example: Someone in debt, living in a run down house going paycheck to paycheck who for whatever reason receives a large sum... and they use it wisely... paying off debt, moving to a better home (not going to the mansion, just a better home), setting up a budget, savings, ira, and college funds... Well, that could bring some happiness. But in the end, it really is more than that. They'll still be left with themselves when all is said and done.

....of course, with money they could also afford therapy and meds if needed, so maybe....

Now someone who has always had money or spends the "unexpected large sum" and ends up right back where they were, money is not a contributing factor.

I hope I made sense there... I really shouldn't reply to such in depth questions in the morning hours. ;)

ming said...

I'm a painter.

and there is no way money could replace the happines that comes from painting a picture for me.

yes happiness cannot be bought.

but paint can:)

Moof said...

I do believe that there are problems that can be solved if you have cash - for example, transportation back and forth to work is not only nice, it's paramount. So is a wardrobe which is appropriate to the work you do.

And so on - Maslow's laws certainly apply.

However, relational problems will continue unabated with or without money, and may even worsen with money.

Once the basics are met, I think that happiness is more closely related to expectations, priorities, and emotional/psychological resilience.

Nancy said...

I do not think money makes anyone happier because I think people feel happier if they earn their belongings or what they have.
I also do not think that money will solve anyone who has money problems. People with constant money problems need help, they are always miserable, trying to borrrow from one and pay the other.
They need to live within their means and then maybe happiness will follow.

ellesu said...

I'll have to agree that, in the end, money can't buy happines. But, that said, I think money is necessary to allow one to begin the journey to happiness.

With Maslow in mind, after your basic needs are being met in a predictable way, I think the presence of money could make a profound difference in one's life. ....Has anyone else been tempted to 'promise' God that if we win the lottery we'll do (fill in the blank)?

Nope, money probably can't buy happiness, but it sure could help. IMO.

Mama Mia said...

I think they are not entirely correct. Anectdotally I know a lot of people who could be happier if they could afford to work less or to have more leisure.

Personally I would be much happier if I didn't have to worry about paying for university for the kids, and if I could afford to purchase kayaks and gear so I could destress and relax with one of my favourite, (but very expensive) activities...

Ana Ivan said...

I think that the relation between money and happiness is rather indirect. Money helps the individual to buy not happiness, but the things that make that individual happy. The way that one should organize his/her financial life in order to get happy it's up to him/her, and this is valid for all other controversial aspects that may or may not have the "bring happiness" feature.
So... money does not bring happiness, but allow you to get closer to the things that do, if you have identified them, and if you know how to use money in order to get them.

puhpaul said...

I'm with cheryl, once your basic needs for a safe and secure environment are taken care of, our other needs then need to be dealt with. Money can't help with that.

I had forgotten about Maslow's hierarchy even though I'm addressing it every day when dealing with my students.

Miranda said...

Hmmmm....they say money can't buy happiness. Would it be wrong to say I could prove them wrong? I agree with you I think it could lift off a lot of financial stress, which in turn could make us happier.

I think that saying is just something poor ppl say to make them selves feel better. LOL.

But seriously, I don't really think its a money thing. I think you're either a happy person or not. Money is just the gravey.

mysti said...

Interesting that your post is about money and happiness. I promised hubby I would read a book that helps a person stay debt free and happy. The book name is called The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. So far it is how to breath easy and never worry about bills. I will let you know how it is. I think there is a Myth in our culture that we all need money to be happy. I do agree we need money enough to not always worry, but I do not think being rich will make us happy either.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Dr. Fuller,
Good points made here.

Dear Staffpsy,
There have been numerous studies that concur with the recent findings. I have felt happy and not happy with and without money, so I know that money has little to do with my emotional state. But for others, I just wonder if it can offer relief and with relief comes joy.

Dear Enigma,
Excellent points you make here!

Dear Ming,
A person can be rich with so much without having a penny to his or her name. I agree. I feel the way about chocolate as you do about paint. :)

Dear Moof,
I think all that you say is true!

Dear Nancy,
Another great point.

Dear Ellesu,
I think money helps in many ways, and I do think it can bring happiness to those who are stuggling with certain needs. But like the others say, once those needs are satisfied, the inner core of a person will not change.

Dear Mama,
I think along the same lines as you do. I think it can bring so much more ease into one's life.

Dear Ana,
Yours is the most perfect description of the money happiness relationship.

Dear Puhpaul,
I agree with Cheryl and Staffpsy and you with Maslow. I just wonder if there is more "gray" than the the black and white results that money doesn't bring happiness.

Dear Miranda,
I think you should start a research study of your own. What a great idea you have!

Dear Mysti,
I have never been a person who looks to money. I actually could make a greater living than I do but I slide my scale and see many patients pro bono. I feel very happy in my work and home life, and money is not really a part of it. But I can see how money can makes things easier. And I've never known a wealthy person to give their wealth away? Have you?


Beth said...

I would absolutely agree.

Earlier in the year I had to do some fairly drastic things to improve my financial situation and I thought once I'd done it, I'd immediately be happy. I was relieved, of course and its comforting to have light at the end of the tunnel, but I still have the same problems I had before. Relationship issues, work issues, family issues.

Money doesn't buy you happiness, but it buys you a slightly better class of misery. :o)

Miranda said...

Lol...ok you send me a bunch of money, and I'll get on it right away. :D
Have a great day!

Sarebear said...

Ana makes some points I was going to make, but better put!

I think it depends on alot of what's going on internally with the person, but, aside from that:

What everyone else said, about taking the basics of living worries off.

What most everyone has said about being able to buy things to provide leisure/recreation/hobbies that really do increase our happiness (the doing of the leisure activity, or engaged in a hobby, etc.)

Along with that last, is being able to take vacations, and create fun memories, and get away from the routine of your daily life. We haven't been able to do that, except for two years ago when my inlaws paid for and took us on a vacation to California; the JOY I hold in my heart at remembering the innocent delight, glee, fun, and wonder that my then 5 year old daughter expressed upon discovering she was actually MEETING Princess Aurora, and the others, and all the other fun of Disneyland . . . . that goes FAR, FAR beyond the money it cost to take us there.

Being able to get out there and LIVE, and do fun things, and create memories.

Granted, one needs to ALWAYS look for ways to do that, on whatever budget you have, and we do, but obviously there are many, many more options with money. And the park gets old after awhile (but not for my daughter! so we keep going . . .)

The opportunity to bond more with those you are close with, and create common experiences together, yet that are out of the ordinary, very memorable, and happy and joyous and carefree . . . that, as the Mastercard commercials would say, is Priceless.

The capacity to GIVE to others would also be increased, with money, and that creates a happiness in ones' self as well. It isn't so much that I'd be purposefully buying my own happiness by, say, helping pay for programs to help women in Africa, help build wells in African villages, or other things, I have a sincere desire to help, and THAT is the primary purpose . . . . but neither will I deny any positive feelings inside myself about it, either.

Also, being able to promote mental health issues, and lobby state and national legislators on these issues, would be easier with money. And that would make me very happy indeed. Hee! As well as potentially helping alot of other people, if anything I did caused any positive progress at all . . .


On the other hand, (sorry to go on so long!). One's identity needs NOT to be tied up in the money, and everything you can get (which, I have major problems with cause I feel so strongly I HAVE TO BUY MORE STUFF to be happy, even if it's only a few more peridot beads, or whatnot . . .)

Money . . . is only worth what people, society at large, think it is. To base one's own worth and happiness on what other people think something is worth . . .

Although since society determines the base price of things, generally, at least somewhat, in a market economy, that does become what the money is worth, even if WE say it is just paper.

Ack. I'm rambling. I'm TRYING to make a few points, though.

One can be happy without money. One can be happy WITH money.
Money helps provide things that ease worries and living situations, as well as provides access to health care, physical and mental. Money helps us ease these things for others, both those we love and know, and those around the world. Money helps us access those things that provide enjoyment, relaxation, leisure, and activities to help fill our time in a positive, productive way (ie, creating something with a creative hobby). Money can help us access experiences and places with those we love that will provide opportunity for wonderful memories.

What we DO with the money can help our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. The money itself, doesn't provide happiness, but it can provide access to doings with it that are helpful . . .

When it comes down to it, though, we are OURSELVES, inside our own skin, regardless of any externals we may or may not have, and it is THIS that I think the study and those like it may be researching . . . If I LOATHE the way I am so needy, lonely, over-talkative at times, overly shy and afraid and extremely fearful . . . no amount of money will make me LIKE those things about me. (With that said, money spent on mental health care will help, IF IF IF I put in the work on my own part to engage in therapy, do "homework", and improve these things as I learn how through therapy and with meds).

If I am not happy because I just have a sour outlook on life, and am pessimistic that things generally are going downhill in society, and say apathetic about the political process and that they are all corrupt anyway, no amount of money is going to make me happy, with these attitudes . . . (Those aren't necessarily my opinions, just an example.)

SO. Sorry to go on so long, and not so efficiently in some places, but I think I made myself clear in quite a few spots! Please tell me it's okay I went on about this . . . ? And whatcha think!

Dreaming again said...

starts with basic principals I think.

My in laws thought money would fix everything. Their income was in the 6 digits and they were miserable. They were also deep in debt. We, live under the poverty level and they owed us $1000.
6 years ago ..they won the lottery ... 1 million dollars. After taxes it was 688,000.
(yes, they paid us the 1000 first).

Now, 6 years later ... we're happier than we've ever been ...

and they're getting a divorce and filing for bankruptsy at 1.2 MILLION dollars.

Money cannot buy happiness if you don't have happiness figured out already.

Traci said...

I don't think money makes people happier. I do believe it can and does relieve alot of stress related issues. Once the stress is relieved however, where does that leave a person? With their inner self and all that entails. People can choose to be content or not...unless of course, they are dealing with severe depression etc. So I guess this is my way of saying money can't buy happiness but it sure can relieve some stress! : )

Tiesha said...

I do agree that money can't buy happiness...but it certainly would help! :)

Heidi said...

How funny you should blog about this..I just bought some lotto tix for a 14 million $ draw tonight.. I need to relieve some wish me luck! ;)

The Mass Defective said...

Money certainly won't reduce the misery I endure which is brought on by being mentally ill, but it sure would lighten the load by removing some of the environmental stressors that add to that misery. So if anyone isn't happy with their money, I'll take it :)


wolfbaby said...

Well, I agree that being happy is something that people do or don't do. It's a state of mind.

With that said... If you don't like your money go ahead and send it my way...

I've got lots of med bills for tots and c-sections and allergies and.....

being able to get scripts filled on a regular basis...would be nice

It' wouldn't make me happier but it sure would relieve my stress level... alot....and make me healthier....

jumpinginpuddles said...

but i can say one thing the stress of having money and the stress of having it are two different issues.
We have no money usually ever and the stress of paying bills is horrible, let alone feeding the kids and paying medical bills.
But then ive seen people with money and the stress of keeping up the lifestyle and making more money is hard also.
**sighs** but we could sure use money right now ;)And wed live with the stress of the lifestyle ;)

beethoven writes said...

money is just a means to an end. as long as you have enough to do what you want or travel where you want to, its not important.

enjoyed your blog!



Leah said...

I know I would be happier if I had more money. At least enough to pay off student loans when I graduate..haha...I don't think I would want millions of dollars though....I think that would be just as stressful as not having any money.

lightfeather said...

I'm thinking that money has no personality, no soul. Money in itself cannot bring happiness, sadness, greed, nor contempt. Mondy brings freedom to do what your soul's purpose might be, delivering freedom to give it away, spend it, do what you please, but most importantly, to be free to be.

Something to think about :-)

difficult patient said...

Hmmmmmm, if a person's heart is in the right place, if he/she is emotionally stable and happy with his/her circumstances, then money can increase satisfaction . . . but only then.

BTW, please don't follow shrinkette and medpundit!

Sunnie Dee said...

Money can buy happiness but it depends on what the person defines as happy.

I remember when I was a student if I found $2 I was extremely happy, small amount right but it meant I could buy some fruit for the day instead of living off bread.

For poor people it can buy happiness because they value things so differently from rich

healthpsych said...

Money can certainly ease some of the day to day stresses and while that might bring relief, does that necessarily bring happiness?

I don't believe so. Isn't real happiness in life brought by intangible things? Someone mentioned painting bringing happiness to them. If that happiness simply depended on having paint then money could definitely be it. However, it's more than's the creativity, the vision, the action.

But is our view coloured by our place in life? From the point of someone in an underdeveloped country, money to have sufficient food, medical treatment, somewhere to live might bring a level of happiness most of us can only dream of.

Precisiongirl said...

Money isn't this magic wand that makes everything better - it just makes some things a little easier.

Being able to pay bills on time, to not be in debt, to be able to take a holiday once in a while is something I yearn for.

However I wouldn't want so much money that I'd lose my work ethic.

Fallen Angels said...

I agree with those that say money doesn't buy happiness but makes getting there a heck of a lot easier! I would be very happy to know that I could pay the rent and buy groceries and still be able to buy that sweatshirt I saw in a store that was sooo cute...and not have to worry that now I won't be able to pay the phone bill or fix my car if something happens!

Single Ma said...

I think money solves many problems on the lower level of Maslow's heirarchy of needs. However, as we advance in life and our basic needs are met, money becomes more of a means to an end rather than a necessity.

It can't buy happiness but it sure makes finding happiness a lot easier.

Leesa said...


I actually posted on this yesterday: Artistic Musings

I think that if you are doing things that are not consistant with who you really are, you tend not to be content/happy.

Thing is, some who are consistant with who they are tend to be more functional (and perhaps make more money). So I don't really think it is the money that makes them happy. Anyway, I started writing about it on my blog - an interesting issue.

Thanks for sharing!

United We Lay said...

I don;t think money makes people happier, but the lack of it certainly does make them sadder.

narcicizma said...

Happiness is a state of being that can be got with or, for the lucky ones, without effort. Believing this to be true, I don't see how money, a tangible thing, can be directly connected to happiness. The connection may exist in some individual cases but not as a general rule.

How was the vacation Deb? Good to have you back.

MeMe said...

At first thought, money can only buy you things, vacations, everyday necessities for life and even death (how much is the average funeral these days?) Money can buy you bills or indebtness.
Thinking further, money can buy you popularity, would Donald Trump have a TV show if he was poor??? Money can buy influence, geesh, some people hold on to every other word Oprah spills out her mouth. Money can surely buy you power, like wow, who cares what a poor person thinks about world peace, the economy, what program gets to be on TV or even who plays the starring role. Would anyone even ask???
Money can broaden your horizons. Rich folks get to tastes the finest champagne, brandy, caviar, frogrie(sp?) you know, duck liver, see, I can't even spell it, hehehehe. Businesses give rich/influential/powerful people sweet deals (more money) if they would endorse their products. They get to experience 20 star hotels, take pix in the sands of a private island.
However, thinking from the heart, can money buy you a change in how you were raised??? Equating money with happiness is a strange thing for me. The Beatles said "Money can't buy you love", oh so true. Money has nothing to do with the happiness a person can feel knowing they are loved UNCONDITIONALLY. Hey, when you get married, the preacher even says, "to love for richer or poorer."
Money can help with a persons sense of self-worth, especially when they are worth much, but that is shallow, about as shallow as the friends you can acquire when you have lots of green backs. Only the rich can coin a term and the world uses it. Paris Hilton's money told the world that "that's hot" is hot.
But what I think is hot is being happy with yourself as a person of integrity, character, self esteem, self empowerment, acceptance with tons of UNCONDITIONAL love and a passion for life.

Godwhacker said...

I worked on Fisher Island for 6 years. The island is a resort/real-estate development for the super wealthy. It is inhabited by CEOs, movie stars and the like. I got to know many of my clients very well and I concur with the assertion that money does not buy happiness. Some of the people were happy, others were just as depressed and hopeless as anyone you might meet at a bus stop. One, with whom I developed a personal friendship, even committed suicide. All the money in the world could not stop her from feeling miserable and worthless.

Without a doubt it works like this; FIRST find happiness AND THEN money can make it a little more enjoyable ~ but that is it. Money is just an accessory. Inner-peace can not be bought at any price.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Beth,
I think your experience says it all.

Dear Miranda,
I'll see what I can do.

Dear Sarebear,
Ana did say it well, but so did you.

Dear Dreaming Again,
wow, that some story!

Dear Traci,
I think like you do.

Dear Tiesha,
I think everyone feels the same way.

Dear Heidi,
I'll be rooting for you.

Dear Mass,
I believe, money does a lot to help reduce stress.... I agree with you.

Dear Wolfbaby,
I agree with you -- money helps.

Dear JIP,
I hear you!

Dear Tom,
Thanks for dropping by.

Dear Leah,
Money can help a great deal. But I do believe it cannot buy happiness, but he can help the to get your needs.

Dear Lightfeather,
wow,, that is so beautifully said!

Dear difficult patient,
I think you are right in what you say -- I'm sad that med pundit and shrinkette have stopped blogging... I hope to continue!

Dear Sonnie,
sometimes I like to play devil's advocate.... if money doesn't buy happiness. Why aren't the welthy giving away their riches?

Dear healthpsych,
I do believe happiness is intangible.... it is a state of feeling and being that money cannot buy.... but money can help to get a person there...imo.

Dear precision girl,
I can get what you are saying. :-)

Dear fallen,
I do believe money helps make things easier -- life, finances, etc. but I don't know if it brings happiness.

Dear single ma,
Money is a means to an end, you are right.

Dear Leesa,
I have met many people who are happy, truly content and money was never a measure of their happiness.

Dear United we Lay,
that's an interesting point of view.

Dear Narcicizma,
vacation was nice, thanks for asking--- as for money, I don't believe it buys happiness. But it can relieve a variety of stressors, which can bring joy and relief.

Dear Meme,
Money can offer a lot of things....that is true.

Dear Godwhacker,
What an interesting life you have led....I agree, money cannot buy happiness, I just sometimes wonder if there is more gray to the black- and- whiteness of such a statement.


cheesemeister said...

Money can't buy happiness but it can rent relief.

Godwhacker said...

Hi Deb,
I think the "gray" area is the basic necessities. Food, shelter, and the other basics of life are essential to personal well-being. Once those needs are met, I think personal happiness is obtainable. I have watched with amusement as I witness people whose needs grow to include a new Mercedes or 8,000 sq. ft waterfront condo. Are those things necessary? I don't have them and I have never been happier.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Cheesemeister,
I like how you worded that. But to have a solid home in happiness, I think one has to have it deep inside, in the intangible core of your soul.

Dear Godwhacker,
I agree with you. I have felt the most happiness when nothing materialistic was involved. Here's to happiness and the ability to have it, hold it and appreciate it!


Cinthea said...

Money can be me satisfaction and a little temporary comfort. But true comfort, real happiness and all that - nope. Money can't buy love. Not for me, anyway :)

Naomi said...

There's something to say for having money, even some disposable income. Without a doubt, you have some unhappy people among the rich. But at least they have more choices than the working poor or those who are homeless.

Wendy C. said...

SOme of the best times I have ever had in my life...those moments I will never forget and make me smile - are moments that had nothing to do with money. Sure, working hard and trying to make the house payment with three kids at home and a husband in college has its real strains...but compared to people who live in grass huts with little except rice to eat - and walk five miles for water...I am so rich...and fact, compared to the rest of the world we all live like Kings!!! And the moments I am aware of by blessings (however meager compared to other people) are the happiest.

Wanda's Wings said...

Having enough money to pay bills, buy food, etc . is important. Having "enough" I believe is the key. Lack of or too much of anything causes stress.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Cinthea,
I agree with you. I feel the same way.

Dear Naomi,
Yes, good point.

Dear Wendy,
My happiest memories were always "moneyless" too.

Dear Wanda,
Lack of anything is stressful. I do think those who are in financial despair can find happiness in money. But it relieves the burden of the finances....not necessarily the core soul of a person.


Candace said...

Someone (George Carlin?) said, "It's not the money, it's all the stuff." I love stuff. I'd be less happy if I couldn't have some of the stuff I have. I'd be unhappy (to say the least) if the stuff I needed were the basics, like food, clothing, and shelter. So yeah, I think money (in this culture) has a lot to do with happiness. Not everything, but a lot.