Does Money Buy Happiness?

Does Money Buy Happiness?


In the past week, this topic has come up several times in different ways. I ran into a former client at a mall and she’s telling me about her divorce settlement.   She got three of their five homes.  Yet she feels extremely lonely and empty.  Another client tells me that she believes only the wealthy are happy.  They have struggled financially most of their marriage and she’s angry and bitter.  

Happiness research shows that we’re all pretty much mildly dissatisfied all the time, regardless of income, gender, marital status or what stupid car we drive (Daniel Gilbert). It also shows that we can increase our levels of happiness as well as our levels of life satisfaction. 

We’re bad at predicting what will make us happier.  Some of the world’s most miserable people are those whose circumstances seem the most enviable.  People who reach the top of the ladder career-wise are often surprised to find emptiness awaiting.


How is it that a man who spent 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit could come out and say he would not trade the experience?  Compare that to a man who won one of the highest lottery amounts in U.S. history at the time, was broke in a year and committed suicide a year later.  The first man was just plain grateful to be with his family and friends and looking forward to his life ahead. 

Positive mood and optimism are highly correlated with increase happiness levels.

The lottery winner got his initial “high” from his winnings, squandering it all in the first year,  but it eventually wore off and he must have felt there was nothing more to live for.  People who feel hopeless and decide they can’t do anything about their negative circumstances in their lives are more likely to be depressed.  If people have an orientation of hope towards a future, it makes a big difference in their happiness.

I want to share a personal story.   Prior to being a therapist, I was a teacher who worked with kids who could not attend school due to illness or injury.  I worked with many cancer students, heart or lung transplants, broken femurs, etc. I would be assigned a student and work with them at their home or hospital, depending.  One Fall I was assigned a young girl, Kelly, a 5th grader with terminal brain cancer.  At that time, we didn’t have a cell phone or GPS.  We were still using the Rand McNally maps… (yeah, I know, I just gave away my age). By the way, they still make them.


Around that same time, my husband’s company went through a major down-sizing and his job as Director of Sales was eliminated, along with a big part of his income.  We struggled financially and were doing everything we could do hold onto our home, while our first daughter went off to college.  His office at that time was in a nice area and we’d pass by a neighborhood that had a beautiful house on the corner with a pond and white ducks.  I used to wonder who lived there and envied, not only their beautiful home but the peacefulness of the pond and ducks.  I remember actually thinking life was not fair. 

Back to Kelly.  My first Monday working with her I followed the directions my husband mapped out for me.  He said he believed it was somewhere over by his office.   Are you getting the direction of this story yet?  Yep, Kelly lived at that very home I so envied and believed offered such peacefulness to the family living there.  Trust me, there was no peace in that household, I know, because I was there four days a week working with Kelly.  She died six months after I began working with her.  The white ducks, those were Kelly’s.  We used to feed them when she was up to going outside.

It was a great life lesson for me.  Kelly’s family had money, plenty of it, but not all the money in the world would have saved Kelly.   We were struggling financially but we were all healthy and had each other.   Envy is no longer an issue for me, at least in what really matters in life.  Funny how life has a way of waking us up to the important things of life.


Which leads me back to the topic of this Blog:  Can money buy happiness?  By far the greatest predictor of happiness is intimate relationships.  Robert Putman, in his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, tells how people have become more and more isolated and number of studies show the link between society and psyche.  People who have close family, friends, neighbors, church ties, and supportive co-workers are less likely to experience depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, etc. 

Happiness is best predicted by the depth of one’s social connections.


Daniel Dennent, who’s a consciousness researcher says, “Do you want to know the secret of happiness?  Here’s the secret of happiness:  Find something more important than yourself and dedicate your life to it.”

The Fight of Two Wolves with Us


An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

This tale is a reminder of the power our thoughts have over our life and happiness.  Which wolf are you feeding in your life? 

Five Ways to Become Happier:

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