If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, How Can You Be Happy?

Last Updated on April 9, 2021

Money doesn’t buy happiness. This is a saying that we’ve all heard on numerous occasions from a variety of sources.

Sometimes, it feels like people claim that money can’t buy happiness as an empty platitude to make others feel better about not having money. The folks who have it are the ones telling the folks who don’t that it doesn’t buy happiness. But is it true?

Is it True that Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness?

Nothing is as simple as it seems. While it’s true that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness, money does buy the things you need to be happy. And no, I don’t mean sports cars and designer clothes. In our current society, you need money to buy shelter, food, and everything else you need to survive. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to be happy without those basic necessities of life. When you look at it that way, yes, money does buy happiness.

However, research shows that money’s impact on happiness starts to wear off when you get more money. A Princeton study from 2010 found that after about $75,000 per year, more money doesn’t correspond with more happiness. A more recent study published in 2018 confirmed that $75,000 per year was optimal for emotional well-being, but more money, $95,000 per year, was needed for overall life satisfaction.

Even lottery winners aren’t overall happier than the general population. Research suggests that those who have won huge jackpots are generally just as happy as they were after winning. If someone was miserable before winning a ton of money, they are likely to be just as miserable afterward.

What Do These Studies Tell Us About Money and Happiness?

These two studies showcased the relationship between money and happiness. They verified our premise above, that although money doesn’t buy happiness, you can’t be happy without some of the things that money can buy, including basic necessities. But, $75k per year is well above the national average. Therefore, we can assume that it takes a bit more than just having basic necessities to be happy.

Being happy also takes some measure of financial security. Having your basic needs met short term isn’t enough for contentment. Knowing that your needs will be met long term is a key to happiness and the income level of well above average showcases that.

However, the fact that it takes less than $100,000 per year in both studies really highlights the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness. More money, after basic needs and financial security are met, does not make people happier. Running on the hedonic treadmill to gain more and more material wealth does not lead to happier outcomes.

So this begs the question – if money doesn’t buy happiness, what does?





How Can You Be Happy?


There are plenty of things that you can do to be happier not only in your day-to-day but in your life as a whole. Here are twelve ways to become happier and live a more fulfilling life, and as you will see, only one of the twelve is about money.

Make Enough Money

Like we said, money doesn’t buy happiness, but in order to be happy, you need enough money to feel secure. Although studies show that figure to be around $75k per year, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need that much. It’s just an average.

The first step is figuring out how much money you really need. You might be surprised to find that it’s much less than you thought.

Next, you should take steps to ensure that you make that much money. This might include finding a promotion at work, making a career change, or even starting a side hustle. But once you get to that point where you’re making enough, relax. Making more money isn’t going to make you any happier. You should start focusing on the rest of this list to achieve true fulfillment.

Show Gratitude

Thankfulness and gratitude can work wonders for happiness. Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and really appreciate the positive things in our lives. We take them for granted. Taking a minute to think about all the good things you have is a great way to be happier in your life.

One great tool for expressing thankfulness is a gratitude journal. It’s a specific journal that you only use to write down the positive things in your life. It’s your own little bastion of positivity.  I like to write down three things that I’m thankful for every day. This practice helps me realize how many great things I have in my life. Of course, there are some days where I’m feeling down and can’t think of much, but I always have my cat to be thankful for. Sometimes just remembering that one small thing that brings you joy each day is enough.

Build Relationships

Relationships are the cornerstone of happiness. Human beings are social creatures. We are meant to interact and bond with others. To live a happier life, don’t spend money, spend time with others, and put effort into your relationships.

Reach out and reconnect with old friends. Call your parents. Take time off work to be present in your kids’ lives. Maintain and nurture the connections that you have with your loved ones, whether they be family or friends, near or far. Connecting with others will do wonders to improve your overall happiness.

Take Care of Your Body

It’s hard to be happy when you are unwell. We have only one body in this life, and it’s important to take care of it.

Start by exercising a little bit every day. This can be as simple as doing a few stretches or calisthenics. Even a short walk is better than nothing.  Exercise releases endorphins, your brain’s happy juice.

Next, try to eat a balanced diet. Cut out the pop and the fast food. If you have to eat out, try to choose healthier options, like salads and grilled chicken.  Keeping your body active and healthy will ensure that you can continue doing all of the things that make you happy for a long time to come.

Another bonus to taking care of your body is that it can help you improve your self-esteem. Looking and feeling great will improve your confidence and help with your overall well-being. There are so many benefits to taking care of your body – improved happiness is just the tip of the iceberg.

Pursue Your Interests

Speaking of doing the things that make you happy – in my opinion, pursuing your interests is the real key to happiness. Take time to explore your hobbies. Get involved in the things that matter to you. Take online courses to learn about the things that you love.

Another secret is that it doesn’t have to be for profit. Sure, you can monetize a ton of hobbies, but that’s just a bonus. You don’t have to be hustling and working every second of your life.

There’s something to be said for doing something just because you enjoy doing it. Figure out what you enjoy doing. Dabble in a few things. Explore all of the things you are interested in and have a blast doing it. Find joy in doing all of the things you love to do, and you’ll be happier overall.

Enjoy Nature

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we often stop to enjoy the beauty of the natural world around us. The old adage “stop and smell the roses” has been around forever for a reason. The happiest people understand that nature is there for us to enjoy. They take time to stop and appreciate nature, even if it’s as simple as smelling the roses.

Take some time out of your day to enjoy the world we live in. Take a stroll through the local park, watch a stream trickle by, and listen to the chatter of the birds. This bountiful world of beauty and wonder is something that money cannot buy – but it’s incredibly easy to get out there and enjoy it.

Give Back

Giving to charity is a great way to be happier. Helping others gives people a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. It feels good to help.

There are a multitude of ways to give back. You can donate money or goods, but you can also volunteer your time. Volunteering to feed kittens or build homes for the less fortunate will do wonders for your own happiness and wellness. Find a charity organization that you believe in and find ways that you can help them.

Be Kind

Acts of kindness cost nothing but have a ton of positive effects. Being kind to others makes you feel good about yourself. Happy people compliment others and lift each other up. They are bundles of generosity bursting with love and laughter.

This type of happiness is contagious. It’s nearly impossible to be unhappy while making someone else’s day. Compliment strangers, hold doors for people, pick up things that others drop, and be generally helpful in your day-to-day. Even something as simple as smiling can have positive effects, not only on you but also on the world around you.

De-stress

Stress can be a happiness killer. To be happier in your daily life, find ways to reduce stress. Mediation can do wonders for relieving stress, as can some other things are already on this list, like journaling and exercise.

Other self-care activities can help you destress as well. Relax in a warm bath, indulge with a massage, or zone out with an adult coloring book. Finding positive outlets for your stress will help you be happier overall.

Be Optimistic

Changing your mindset can help you be happier overall. Instead of focusing on the negative in a situation, try focusing on the positive. Be mindful of any silver linings in a bad situation, and try to focus on those. Be optimistic about changes instead of fearful.

This is easier said than done. It’s hard to find the good things when everything around us seems to be falling about. Sometimes it’s not as easy and a mindset shift, and that’s okay. However, if you’re in a position where you can focus on the bright side of things, doing so will improve your mood and increase your overall happiness.

Focus on What’s Important

I get it. We have tons of stuff going on in our lives. From deadlines at work to the shopping list at home, our lives are busy messes. Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the big picture – the things that truly matter.

I didn’t really learn how valuable this was until I was deployed to Iraq. The two most important questions there were “Did anyone die?” and “Did anyone get seriously injured?”. Thinking about the world with those two questions in mind really puts things in perspective.

Most things aren’t life and death. But, we can take this lesson and apply it to our lives. Is this going to matter tomorrow? Next year? Asking these questions will help you identify the things that really matter.

Let Go

Focusing on the things that matter will also help you identify the things that don’t. Allow yourself to let go of those things. You don’t need to keep track of every little thing, and you don’t need to stress out about the things that don’t matter.

Letting go also refers to possessions as well. Do you really need to hold onto those old toys from your childhood, all those DVDs that you never watch, and that old box of books that’s been sitting in the garage forever? Let go of the material things that are holding you back. Downsize. Give your extra stuff away to charity, or find ways to sell it. Getting rid of the stuff you don’t need will help you appreciate the stuff you do need.

Forgive

A lot of us struggle with unhappiness because we are holding onto hurt and pain from the past. Whether it be an old relationship, a toxic upbringing, or a betrayal in friendship, old wounds can be a barrier to happiness.

Let go of that negativity. Those past issues are holding you back from experiencing true happiness. Forgiveness isn’t about the people that hurt you. It’s about letting go of the hurt so you can move on with your life.

Seek Help

If you can’t let go on your own, seek help from a qualified professional. There are some things that we just can’t cope with on our own. Talking to a therapist can help you work through any trauma that you have experienced and find happiness in your current life.

Seeking help isn’t just for those who have experienced trauma. Sometimes, chemicals in our brains force us to be unhappy, anxious, and depressed about everything. If you’ve tried everything on this list and more and just can’t seem to find any motivation or happiness for anything, it might be time to see a doctor or a therapist.

There’s still a stigma against mental health issues, and that’s unfortunate because it prevents people from getting the help that they need. But these illnesses aren’t any different than physical illnesses, and it’s just your brain that’s sick rather than another organ. It’s okay to get help for this. It’s okay to see a therapist and work out any issues that might be causing you to be happy, and it’s okay to try medication. Don’t let a false stigma prevent you from seeking the help that you deserve.

Money and Happiness

Money is not the secret to happiness. You can’t buy something and magically become happy. Lasting happiness comes from a state of mind that can be achieved when you have enough disposable income to focus on it.

However, money and happiness do go hand in hand. It’s hard to focus on happiness when you don’t have enough money to survive. Poor people don’t have the option to volunteer in their free time, enjoy nature, and cook balanced meals. They are too busy trying to make sure their basic needs are covered.

But wealthy people aren’t any happier when they are chasing more wealth or buying material things like a new car. At a certain point, more money is just a bonus that doesn’t add anything more to your overall happiness.

To be truly happy, you have to focus on more than just material goods. Focus on living a life of compassion, positivity, and mindfulness, and you will truly be happy.

Melanie - Partners in FIRE
Melanie Allen

Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world's problems. She's self-educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming, and her cats.


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