The Pursuit of Happiness: Can Money Really Buy Happiness?

Reneeka Chatterjee


Does a good life look like a life which has money as if it were growing on trees? Does a happy life imply a life which has sufficient monetary currency and tangible luxuries? Or does a happy life imply a life which chases happiness through immaterial pleasures? A happy life has different definitions for different individuals. It is subjective, abstract, and sometimes, overwhelmingly philosophical.

Surely, oftentimes, money can. There are times when money can, and times when money cannot buy happiness. The wealthier, the happier a person is, but financial security is not all that it takes to lead a content life. Money solves several problems. Money buys food, money buys clothing, money puts a roof over our heads, and so on. But if it could indeed buy ever-happiness, why would billionaires with a fat bank balance still fall prey to lack of contentment in their lives? Money does make one happy to an extent, but that extent cannot be objectively defined.

In 1974, Richard Easterlin reported that happiness was flat or falling between 1946 and 1970 despite sustained economic growth over the period in the United States of America. On the other hand, India which was once known as the “Golden Bird” in ancient times, suffered a continuous economic slump when she was colonised by the British. The relationship between money and happiness remains, till date, ever-vast and ever-abstract.

Does Money Equal Bliss?

Money brings a sense of satiation, especially to those who are struck by poverty. Money means access to food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, sanitation, and so on. This adds to the dignity of an individual, leading to improved physical and mental wellbeing. Paucity of money causes social stress and mental turmoil. India has always been towards the bottom when happiness quotients or similar index rankings are considered. Congestion in cities, population rise, rising cost of medical care, women’s safety, environmental degradation, and a general hot and humid climate account for India’s poor mental wellbeing.

Thus, money obviously matters. The youth, especially, is rational and wishes to be prosperous. With money, one can buy what brings one happiness. But there are several things which money can’t buy, and that paradoxically includes things which bring one happiness. An individual’s wellbeing, which may or may not come from money, may vary day-to-day. The concepts of experienced wellbeing (day-to-day wellbeing) and evaluative wellbeing (overall wellbeing over a prolonged period of time) are accounted for here. They are so vast that they cannot be truly defined.

The confluence of money and happiness has long puzzled both economists and psychologists. Research proves that money correlates with happiness. “Higher incomes are associated with both feeling better day-to-day and being more satisfied with life overall,” wrote Matthew Killingsworth, in 2021.

Who Said That Money Cannot Buy Happiness?

How and why is money linked with happiness, or even with misery? This has intrigued us all for years. Psychology and Behavioural Economics steal the spotlight here. A typical mentality which most individuals inherently possess is wanting to have a little more money, which would imply happiness, but ends up implying dissatisfaction as wants are always unlimited. The more we get, the higher we aim and the more we want.

This is the paradox of happiness. The more we earn, the more we want to earn. So, we end up being discontent. This leads to an overall sense of dissatisfaction. Extremely high-income levels may buy life satisfaction, but not happiness. We humans tend to overestimate how much joy money can bring us. A brand-new house, a Louis Vuitton purse, a Lamborghini; are all wonderful, but people get used to them.

For instance, Bollywood superstar, Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, brought home a flamboyant Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which costed a whopping 10 Crore INR, following the success of his latest blockbuster, Pathaan. But do you think that possessing this glamorous car has really brought him or his life a massive deal of additional happiness or value? The answer is probably negative. This phenomenon is known as the Hedonic Treadmill in Behavioural Economics.

Do You Feel Stuck On Complacency?

People get used to what they have, or even to what they get; with time. Give it time, and time changes everything. Positive or negative externalities continue to not affect an individual’s levels of happiness to a great extent. They continue to maintain a basic level of happiness that remains relatively stable. The more riches you gain, the more expectations you have. That is only human. That is psychological. And then you are no better off than you were before. Even after gaining what you wanted. Life is full of oxymorons! 

Money controls our lives. Money is linked to greater stress and problems in relationships. When one prioritises the pursuit of materialism, one disregards other dimensions of life such as relationships. Emotionally rewarding things are disregarded which causes stress, and thus leads to lack of satisfaction in life. Too much of wealth may give birth to fears; fears that could even potentially haunt one. For instance, if you’ve got a huge bungalow with lots of wealth in the form of tangible assets, a fear of your house being broken into could possibly be running at the back of your mind, at periodic intervals.

The Almighty Indian Rupee (Bank Notes)

Thus, money may buy you happiness in several ways, but not in all ways. Investing in human relationships benefits moods and brings happiness. Spending time with friends and family, going out on dinners and movie dates, or simply reading a book that was left untouched on the shelf, are various ways of investing in the pursuit of happiness itself.

Peace of mind is another vital thing which cannot be monetarily bought. You cannot buy feelings and emotions with money. Often, the littlest gestures create the most not-so-little impact. While it is up to you to decide whether money is “the root of all evil or the route to happiness”, research has proven that money does really buy you happiness, with the disclaimer “but only if you spend it in the right way”.

Reneeka Chatterjee

B.Sc. Economics SY

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