A Discussion on Whether Money Can Buy Happiness

Is a person able to buy happiness with money? This is the long time question asked by thousands with no end, and hardly with a unanimous answer. This essay will state that, no, money cannot buy happiness, as material objects are not a key to happiness. Money can however help a person gain a sense of contentment and happiness through other means.

Everything said in this essay must be taken with a grain of salt because not everyone’s situation and culture is the same. Some culture, and some beliefs base happiness by religious means or money just isn’t as necessary because of the poverty level (bargaining may be more prominent). In all, money is only paper and fabric, and it is what a person does with the paper like fabric that enables them to feel more happiness in life.

Money can buy just about anything in this world. Of all of the buyable stuff, it can be sorted into two categories. These two categories are described in the academic journal “Daedulus” through the article “How Not to Buy Happiness” by Robert H. Frank. This author described the two categories as inconspicuous goods and conspicuous goods. The first is what allows money to “buy” happiness. Inconspicuous goods are things done, using money, to create a less stressful environment and increase the quality of life. Conspicuous goods may make a person smile for an instant, but it will not be true lasting happiness.

Studies done in Japan show how even as life is made easier with technology, no one is significantly happier. Japan in 1960 had not many cars, washing machines, cameras, and other electronics, but by the 1980’s all of these were more abundant. A study was done, asking how happy a person was throughout these era’s and it was found that people were not significantly happier in the 1980’s than 60’s (How not to Buy Happiness 70). These conspicuous goods, cameras, washing machines, do not help society’s happiness. Money can’t buy happiness through objects and luxuries.

Money may be able to buy a moment of happiness but in general, “money does not make people happier” (The Economics of Happiness 27). Richard A. Easterlin describes the studies done by Hadley Cantril and others in his article The Economics of Happiness. One study, Hadley Cantril’s, interviewed people in fourteen countries of all backgrounds and affiliations. Hadley points out that the survey was openended and people thought of the answers through themselves not forementioned answers. No matter what the people lived like, rich or poor, they seemed to follow a trend of what made them happy:

“Thus, it is the things that occupy most people’s everyday lives, and are somewhat within their control, that are typically at the forefront of their personal concerns – especially making a living, marriage and family, and health” (27).

As noticed, wealth, richness, luxuries, are not included in the list. Money can help enable some of these, as you need money to make a living to buy food, family needs cost money, and health can also be costly. Money is helpful in this world, but it cannot buy happiness, only help achieve the real realities of happiness.

Now, a person may notice how in the article, Easterlin also agrees that “Indeed, if happiness and income are compared at any point in time, those with more income are, on average, happier than those with less”(31). Reading only this statement would cause the reader to think that if someone gains more wealth in their life they would be happier, this is wrong. This information is from two compared groups, one with a higher income than the other, but Easterlin also studied what happens if someone gains money or wealth within their lifetime. Easterlin found that happiness does not in fact increase if income accumulates in life (31). He gives an example for Americans:

“Between the years 1972 and 2000, as their average age increased from about twenty-six to fifty-four years, their average income per person – adjusted for the change in the price of goods and services – more than doubled, increasing by 116 percent. Yet their reported happiness in the year 2000 was no different from that of the twenty-eight years earlier. They had a lot more money and a considerably higher standard of living at the later date, but these did not make them feel any happier” (31).

Therefore, money can make people happier than their peers but the increase in money, buying happiness, cannot have the same effect. Happiness comes from within, it can’t be measured in dollars or yen and if a person starts to compare financial advances with their wealthier neighbor it is obvious they will feel more poorly about themselves. This is why it is frowned upon to be jealous of another person’s money or luxuries, it hurts their happiness, people have to be content with what they are able to be given.

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