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Ever standing debate: Can money buy happiness?

The quote “money can’t buy happiness” is common knowledge to all of us by now. We have been hearing since we were young that money isn’t the most important thing in the world, it isn’t the solution to all problems, and most importantly, that it can’t bring us happiness. The expression has been used a million times by our parents; when they don’t want to buy something you desperately want and claim that it will bring you glee, or during one of their long lectures about being a good person and doing the right thing. Even in children’s movies, after making their way through extensive journeys, protagonists conclude their search with a much more valuable lesson than what they were hoping to achieve in the first place, learning that what truly matters is what is inside of you and the people you surround yourself with. Not the amount of money you have in your bank account, or if you have the newest technological invention, or the amount of designer shoes that you own.

The thing is, even though money indeed isn’t the most important thing in the world and that having money doesn’t immediately bring us happiness, is this statement actually true? Is it actually true that we can’t use money in a manner that can bring both us and others around us happiness? I don’t know about you, but I get pretty happy when I buy a new piece of clothing, travel to a different country, and am able to donate to a charity. In order to do all these things that bring me joy, money is necessary. With the constant doubt of the significance of money in one's life and the correlation between money and happiness, the debate of whether money is able to buy happiness or not was raised and has been intensely discussed for years on end.

There are two predominant points of view to this debate. People who believe that the use of money to buy all types of assets brings happiness, versus those who believe that happiness can’t be bought and it simply comes from within. Those who stand on the side that money can buy happiness are predominantly economists and analysts, individuals that pay further attention to analytical and statistical data. Information collected from diverse investigations and research forms have shown that money and happiness have a weighty concurrence on each other. The other end of the debate is filled with psychologists and those more interested in the moral subjectivity behind it all. As ethically, money and happiness should be completely separate conditions from one another and not have any dependency on each other whatsoever. (I will make use of these characteristics to defend each side of the debate.)

First of all let’s cover the basis. In the context of mental or emotional states, happiness is defined as positive or pleasant feelings that range from satisfaction to intense joy. Life satisfaction, well-being, subjective well-being, prospering, and eudaimonia are some examples of the forms from which people gain happiness from. Hence, happiness isn’t something that can be physically bought, it is an emotion that is evoked by numerous things. Truly, anything can bring happiness. It is up to each individual to determine what things, actions, etc bring them contentment and cause a smile to rise on their faces.

Regarding money, it is no secret to anyone that we all need money in order to survive. Money is critical to pay for basic necessities such as food, water, household, clothing, healthcare, education, taxes, and more. No one is able to live a proper life with access to all basic human rights without money. These conditions not only ensure that all people stay alive and healthy, but also serve as a basis for our happiness.

Now, let's get into the two opposite sides to this debate:

Money can buy happiness

Most governments hold the belief that their population's happiness has a strong link to the amount of money they hold. Therefore, they dedicate a lot of effort towards constantly increasing the nation's GDP and GDP per capita. By increasing the countries along with the people’s GDP the individuals living within the country have access to more opportunities and leisures, which increases their happiness. Following this line of thought, the richest country in the world should thereby also be the happiest country. This theory was proven to be correct, as Finland is the twenty-second richest country in the world with a $54,673 GDP per capita and has been ranked number one happiest country in the world for the last five years straight, with a score of 7.842 out of a total possible score of 10.

An investigation was carried out with the objective to test the importance of money in one's livelihood. Two hundred people were selected to participate in this social experiment. These individuals were selected from three low-income countries - Brazil, Indonesia and Kenya - and four high-income countries - Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and US. Half of these people were part of the control group which did not receive any money at all, the other one hundred individuals were given a one-time sum of $10,000. Those who received the money were required to spend it all by the end of three months. Researchers wanted to observe and collect data how much this money affected the lives and happiness of these people. In order for an answer to this question to be reached, it was mandatory for all participants to report back their level of happiness at the end of each month. They were instructed to rate how satisfied they were with their lives on a scale of 1 to 7, and in what frequency they experienced positive feelings, like happiness, and negative feelings, such as sadness, on a scale of 1 to 5. The results showed that the group which received $10,000 reported to have much higher levels of happiness compared to the control group who didn’t receive any money, this contrast remained consistent even three months after the original three months the experiment took place. However, people with incomes above $123,000, did not report any significant improvements in their happiness. Significant differences were instead seen from participants living in low-income countries who were three times happier than those from high-income countries. Findings also showed that people earning $10,000 per year were twice as happy as those earning $100,000 per year.

Money can’t buy happiness

The path to becoming rich isn’t the same as the path of happiness. You have just as much of a likelihood to be happy as the richest person in the world. Although, it is inevitable not to notice the tendency of people getting happier as they begin to do better in their jobs and earn more money. Indeed, having a higher income rate increases the possibility of having access to a bigger home in a safer neighbourhood, better health care and nutrition, more leisure time, spending money on items you enjoy, and more. However, with having more, along comes the desperation to always want more. The positive effects of money then tend to become negative, as there will always be something better to buy, and wanting more will cause individuals to have to work harder, longer and become more stressed in order to keep up with their frequent desires.

Often people presume that things will bring them more happiness than experiences. Yet, it is quite the opposite. Even though having physical objects - such as the latest iPhone, handbag, or car - causes people to become gleeful, this happiness only lasts in the short term until a new more innovative design to any of these items comes out. Contrary to these items that only bring temporary contentment, a vacation, concert, etc bring much more joy. Although it might be that these experiences last for short periods of time, they cause lifelong memories to be formed - you will feel just as happy in the actual moment as when looking back at it later in life.

Another misconception people have about the best ways to spend their money is that they believe it will make them happier to spend it on themselves rather than on others. However, that is not exactly true. Giving to others makes people feel better about themselves than buying something new for themselves would. There is something very special about distributing your earnings with those who need it, sharing and spreading your own happiness. An investigation was performed on a group of people before and after they spent their annual bonus, regardless of the size of their bonus. The ones who opted to donate their money to charity or spend it on others reported to be happier than those who spent the money on themselves.

Conclusion: My personal opinion

I have found myself taking constant breaks throughout writing this article and retyping the same sentence many times, because I am not able to entirely stand by only one side of this debate. This is both such a delicate topic to talk about and also a difficult one to pick a side to stick to. I agree with arguments given from both opposing groups and when dedicating considerate time and effort to this topic you will find that there are so many different scenarios to be considered, because happiness is indeed extremely subjective.

I don’t believe anyone is able to survive without a proper amount of money, yet I also don’t support the idea that money is necessary to be happy. Unfortunately, money has become a requisite to get any basic service that all people have the right to have access to. However, money has never become a requirement in order to be happy. Many people do find most of their happiness in things or experiences that they buy, but they should never be dependent on these things nor on the money to buy them.

I won’t deny that specific things that I own bring me an enormous amount of happiness, even so, I value experiences and giving to others much more than I do materials. I believe that experiences are things which are much more worthwhile to spend money on as they last for lifetimes and you can share with others. Donations are even more worthwhile, as you are giving others the opportunity to be just as happy as you are, you are looking beyond your own desires and prioritising others' much deserved needs. Although money can be partially responsible for happiness, family ties, good health, a pleasant environment, and freedom from conflict are all matters that heavily weigh in the equation.

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