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“Money can’t buy happiness.” That is a common phrase, but it’s not exactly true.

I say that, because- Yes, money cannot make you happy on its own. But money can help with the things that bring us joy in life.

Money can be used to purchase experiences and material goods that we enjoy – like traveling or owning a home – and these are all important aspects of living well.

Money can also provide security for ourselves and our loved ones. This gives us peace of mind as we face uncertainty about what lies ahead in this changing world.

This post explores the notion of money not buying happiness in its own right but how it can significantly aide us in reaching our optimal way of living and figuring out how to live like no one else.

What Does It Mean by Money Can’t Buy Happiness?

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Money can’t buy happiness. Period. Let’s just get that out of the way upfront.

To the point: money doesn’t bring a person joy in and of itself.

When someone says, “Money can’t buy happiness,” they mean that money doesn’t cure all your ails and fill your life with everlasting happiness.

Not from a health perspective, but from a sense of fulfillment and general satisfaction with your life.

As an aside for the health sense: money can buy happiness if it means it pays for your health insurance and not having money meant you couldn’t get coverage.

The idea behind the phrase is that money only makes people happy when it’s used to buy things they enjoy (experiences, material goods) or provides security for themselves and their loved ones during difficult times.

The main point being made here is that money can’t make someone unconditionally happy on its own-but then again neither does anything else!

So, this should be seen as an observation rather than some sort of moral lesson about what we should do with our lives to work toward our goals.

If you earn $40,000 a year, $50,000 a year or even six figures a year, you can still find equal levels of happiness.

The type of work we do can also bring us differing levels of happiness. You might work in manual labor and come home smelling to the high heavens but have the biggest smile you can’t manage to wipe from your face.

Likewise, you might enjoy poring through spreadsheets to understand how a freelance finance content marketing writer side hustle has added to your bottom line.

Just the same, you might hate doing either or both of these and instead seek happiness in other lines of work. You should work in a field you like because you want to and not just for the pride that comes from having a big paycheck.

Working for bragging rights isn’t what should bring you happiness, even if some think success is the best revenge. You might think that no one can say money doesn’t buy happiness when you’re earning six figures per year.

But if your work isn’t bringing you any joy, it’s time to think about what might make you happy and do that instead. You’ll be surprised how much more fulfilling life can be when the things we love are aligned to the things we do.

Is it True Money Cannot Buy Happiness?

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I won’t argue against the point of money not equaling happiness, at least not outright.

But money can be used to take care of the people and things that you love. It does change how you can live your life and experience happiness.

In fact, I’ll readily support the idea that money shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all in your life.

Though, that doesn’t mean you should ignore money altogether. Having enough to maintain financial security and peace of mind should be important financial goals to have for yourself.

Money is important for survival, security, and taking care of loved ones. And it’s hard not to conclude at least some happiness comes from having money in all those areas.

You’ll have peace of mind knowing your children are cared for if something were to happen unexpectedly.

By having things to save up for like your family’s financial security both now and in the long-run, you can easily see how money can lead to at least some baseline level of happiness.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states you need your necessities met before ever proceeding to self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. This requires some money in today’s world to realize.

You can save up enough money and grow your nest egg over the long-term. Until you get there, you’ll also want to purchase life insurance online where your family could go on without you supporting them.

In sum, money allows you freedom from worry about basic needs like food or a roof over your head which will make life more enjoyable overall.

Why Money Can’t Buy Happiness Directly

Now, let’s walk through some of the main reasons why money can’t buy happiness directly.

Each situation speaks to how money can’t meet some core need in your life and how non-monetary success or fulfillment is ultimately your goal.

→ Having More Stuff Doesn’t Make You Happy

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Having more stuff won’t make you happy. Material possessions don’t meet our needs.

You need to achieve your own success and not directly tie it to money when measuring progress on your goals. Motivating yourself to be better, be grateful for what you’ve got and what you’ve accomplished are key.

In other words, buying new things is a temporary high that will wear off after the purchase wears out or becomes outdated. Retail therapy only gets you so far.

But this doesn’t mean we should never buy anything again! It’s just important not to get too caught up in materialism if happiness is truly the goal here.

What you should keep in mind is that if you look to material possessions to make you happy, their luster will eventually (often quickly) fade and you’ll look to replace that quick dopamine hit with something new.

This will also eventually fade and you’ll then move on to your next craving. It’s a self-defeating cycle that feels very Sisyphean.

Adding to this complication is that each purchase adds worry to your life, constantly being fearful that it might break, get lost or stolen.

Further, it also costs us more time and money through maintenance and protection. Save that time, money and mental headspace for things that matter.

You’re much better off focusing on what you can control and being grateful for what you’ve got.

It’s easier said than done, but a worthwhile goal if happiness is truly your end-game here.

Related: How to Stop Hemorrhaging Money and Get Back on Track

→ The More You Have, the Less Time You Have to Enjoy It

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It’s a simple numbers game. If you only have so much time to dedicate to your current possessions, by adding more to the mix, you dilute the amount of time you can spend enjoying each thing on average.

You’ll also take away from other things you could do with your time and money. By spending more of your life buying things, it could jeopardize your ability to:

  • travel
  • learn a new skill
  • spend time with your pets
  • pick up an enjoyable hobby
  • spend time with family and friends
  • establish financial security for you and your family

There is a limit to how many things you can do in life. And each thing you buy only limits your potential for leading a more fulfilling life.

Some purchases undoubtedly lead to good impacts on your life and should be pursued. Having money to do what you enjoy is absolutely a necessity.

But the important takeaway is that it’s not about money, it’s about what money allows us to have and enjoy without sacrificing other opportunities that may be more important to our emotional and physical well being.

→ You’ll Always Want More

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Short-term dopamine hits only go so far to satisfy you. Once the dopamine dissipates, you’re left wanting another hit.

Instead, you should focus on what delivers long-term happiness in your life. Something that sustains you and instead of releasing dopamine in your brain- an indicator of a quick win or enjoyment- having serotonin fill your head.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating the mood. It’s present when you’re feeling good and is responsible for your general level of happiness, or lack thereof.

We know money can’t buy happiness, but it does help with stress management- lessening levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.

By not needing to worry about money, you can have a greater sense of control and thus experience less stress than you otherwise might.

Avoiding stress altogether is impossible nor should it be a goal. Meeting stress and overcoming it can instill a healthy sense of success and accomplishment.

These can positively impact your mental health by providing a sense of security and stability.

The key to remaining happy is to find your motivation- something that ignites the fire in you.

Buying things time and time again only delivers a short-term sense of happiness, one that never sustains itself for long. You’ll always want more.

Changing the Consumer Mindset into the Saver’s Mindset

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Once you’ve come to the understanding that buying things doesn’t fill some need in your life and you’d like to get your money working for you instead of against you, you’ve got simple steps you can follow to get started.

These require work upfront to get your finances sorted but ultimately lead to automating your money in the background and breaking free of the consumer mindset and transitioning to a saver’s mindset. With enough time and dedication, you can make money while you sleep as you turn money into more money.

→ Create a Budget

You’ll need to start by creating a budget in Excel, by hand or some other budgeting app (for couples if you’re in a relationship). Figure out where your money is going every month and if there’s anything you can cut.

Figure out what the bare minimum of expenses are that will cover mortgage/rent, utilities, internet and cell phone bills, food (groceries), gas for car, groceries with some cash left over monthly to save or invest in something else like a retirement account.

Once you’ve accounted for all your necessities (including emergency fund and retirement account contributions), the leftover money can be spent on things you want.

Instead of thinking about physical things to buy, you could instead opt to think of investments you can buy. This way, it satisfies the need to purchase something but also places you on a financially-secure path.

→ Automate Your Finances

The second step is learning how to automate your finances in the background. Paying your bills and other fees automatically ensures you’re never forgetting a necessary bill or fee.

Here is where automation comes in handy: it’s all about setting up the process so that money flows without having to think about it.

Automating your finances means:

  • paying bills on time
  • keeping track of what money is coming in and going out each month
  • saving for retirement by putting away enough every month into a retirement account (either through an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k) or otherwise)
  • investing cash into low-risk investments such as index funds (the best assets to invest in for beginners and experts alike)
  • ensuring you have emergency savings set aside at least three months’ worth of living expenses should something happen to disrupt your income stream

Automation also helps with budgeting because you can have your money work for your future.

Automation can also help with your credit score, which will be important when purchasing a home or car because lending institutions use it to assess how risky of an investment they are willing to make in you.

So for example, if you have set up automatic payments from checking into savings each month, the automation will ensure that money is safe and sound as well as earning some interest over time.

Likewise, you can invest money in free stock apps to build up your net worth. Making these steady contributions can establish good wealth building habits to get ahead.

Many of these best stock apps for beginners also offer free sign up bonuses as a way to get you started. Learn how to get free stocks and work toward building your investment balance.

Why You’re Feeling Empty and How to Fill that Void

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The best way to be happy is still a mystery for us, but we know that money can’t buy it.

Money alone isn’t the answer. You need something more than just cash in your pocket – you need purpose and meaning behind what you’re doing with your life.

If you feel emptiness in your life, it might be because you are holding on to too many things that lose their value or meaning over time and not enough of the good stuff that sustains you.

The emptiness you feel can be filled with non-material objects. Things like gratitude, a sense of accomplishment, or simply by enjoying what you already have: time for yourself, people who love you unconditionally, your health.

The key to happiness and filling that void? Be grateful for what you’ve accomplished so far on whatever goals are most important to you right now and down the road.

Feel empowered by them! Success doesn’t have to be linked directly with money when measuring progress on goals.

Ultimately, the key is appreciating what you have and what you’ve accomplished without tying your worth or progress on goals solely to money.

We’re better off focusing our time, money and mental headspace on things that truly matter- whether they be material possessions or self-improvement habits like meditation.

Focus on your own needs, quit worrying about how much we have in comparison with others and find what makes you happy. The quality of life doesn’t rely on quantity alone.

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, But It Helps You Experience It Differently

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Many of us have heard the old adage that money can’t buy happiness, but it’s not entirely true.

With more money comes a better quality of life and being able to achieve what we want in our lives faster than those if we struggle financially.

That doesn’t mean that just having money will make you happy- you need to be grateful for everything else in your life as well including family, friends, and job security.

If you find yourself working hard day after day without seeing any progress or just making ends meet then there might be a financial problem on top of other issues going on with your personal life.

Take some time out from work to think about how much wealth and money you already have in your life and how grateful you are to have those things.

It might be a good idea for some people to experience having less so they can appreciate what they had before and take more time out of their day just enjoying the simple things that other people might not even stop for.

Money is nice, but it isn’t everything.

Money can’t buy happiness.

It doesn’t matter what your income is, if you’re not happy on the inside then money won’t make you any happier.

You’ll always want more and never be content with what you have. This leads to stress, anxiety and even depression in some cases.

The key to happiness is finding success internally, practicing gratitude and appreciation and not relying on money to measure your happiness.

Further Reading:

About the Author

Riley Adams is a licensed CPA who worked at Google as a Senior Financial Analyst overseeing advertising incentive programs for the company’s largest advertising partners and agencies. Previously, he worked as a utility regulatory strategy analyst at Entergy Corporation for six years in New Orleans.

His work has appeared in major publications like Kiplinger, MarketWatch, MSN, TurboTax, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, The Globe and Mail, and CNBC’s Acorns. Riley currently holds areas of expertise in investing, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies and personal finance where he has been cited as an authoritative source in outlets like CNBC, Time, NBC News, APM’s Marketplace, HuffPost, Business Insider, Slate, NerdWallet, Investopedia, The Balance and Fast Company.

Riley holds a Masters of Science in Applied Economics and Demography from Pennsylvania State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from Centenary College of Louisiana.