Can money buy you happiness?

by Alisa on December 10, 2008

I often think about what my life will be like after I win the lottery. Planning how I will spend all of that money is a real preoccupation of mine, one that keeps me very entertained on the nights that I just can’t sleep. It’s right up there with what I would say during my acceptance speech on the day I win the Pulitzer, as well as how I might allow Annie Leibovitz to pose me when Vanity Fair begs me to be photographed for its cover.

Will this make you happy?

Will this make you happy? Photo by Tracy O

The interesting thing about my lottery fantasy, though, is that I rarely see myself blowing the 30 million dollars on possessions. Sure, I might splurge on a few things to ease my life, such as a housekeeper and a cook. I might travel more often. I might get a massage every single day.

But I wouldn’t buy a bigger house, fancier car, or even more clothes. Instead, I would:

  • Buy and preserve land. Someone has to stop the Asphalt Invasion.
  • Start a non-profit Arts Appreciation Foundation for my mother to run. That would make her very happy.
  • Pay off my brothers’ mortgages and send their kids to college. If that doesn’t make my brothers happy, nothing will.
  • Hold a huge party and pay either the Beastie Boys or Red Hot Chili Peppers to come and serenade my husband. That would make him very happy.
  • Send a few needy kids to college.
  • Periodically tip waitresses more than they usually make in a week.

Although all of this imaginary money spending helps me drift off to sleep, it isn’t something I truly pine for. Truth be told, I never play the lottery.

In fact, I’ve always believed that money does not buy happiness. Rather, it probably causes sadness. This is my reasoning. The more money you have, the more things you buy, which means you have more things to worry about.

When you have a lot of expensive things, you worry about people stealing your things. You worry about people spilling stuff on your things. You worry about dog hair on your things. You worry about your things becoming out of date, necessitating the need for newer and better things.

The fewer things you have? The fewer worries you have.

Yet, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of people who would beg to differ, and I can see that viewpoint, too. Life truly is no fun when you don’t have enough money to keep your car running, keep food in your fridge, keep your heat turned up to a comfortable level (if it’s on at all), and keep your wine rack well stocked. And there is something to be said for the chef and housekeeper, not to mention the daily massage.

So I’m kind of on the fence. Would winning the lottery make me happier or not?

Thankfully, there’s an expert on this matter. His name is D. This isn’t his real name. It’s the one he uses on the Internet, but it’s good enough for me. D was once a member of the poor masses. In fact, he lived in his van. Then he won the lottery. Within a span of three weeks, he morphed from one of the poorest people in America to one of the richest.

Now he spends his time raising money for charities and performing random acts of kindness. For instance, last week he hung out in a Christmas tree lot for an entire day and bought trees for anyone who wanted one. Now he’s giving away two free MacBook Pros.

I figured if anyone knows whether or not money can buy happiness, it’s D. So I asked him. This is what he said:

“Alisa, money doesn’t lead to happiness. Money leads to a means to achieve happiness. It is all about your personality. If you like glamour and excess, money will only make you numb to happiness. If you grew up poor, but always knew that if you ever had money you’d do good with it, and meant it, then money will no doubt allow you to achieve happiness. A few things that make me happy are helping others, spending time with my family, interacting with my readers on the blog, and golfing. Now all of those don’t require huge sums of money to make me happy. I did all of them before I won, and I still do them after.”

There you have it. Does money buy happiness? It depends.

By the way, there’s a 98 percent chance that a MacBook Pro would make you an extremely happy person. I love my Mac almost more than I love my husband. You can read all about why here: Living happily ever after with my computer. And you can enter D’s contest by going to his Real Lottery Winner site and signing up for his RSS feed.

Good luck!

You can read more about D’s amazing rags to riches tale on his website Real Lottery Winnter.

You can make Alisa one of the happiest bloggers in the blogosphere by subscribing. It’s easy. Just type your email address into the “Subscribe by Email” box to your right.

What would you do if you won the lottery? Does money buy happiness? Have you say. Leave a comment.

Does money buy happiness?

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A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Erbeau December 10, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I like the old phrase, “Money won’t buy happiness, but it will rent it.” A recent study I read about said that beyond clothing, food, and shelter, more money does not equal more happiness. The least happy zip codes in the US happen to be the most wealthy according to another study. I get asked all the time how I have so much free time (something that money can’t buy, more time)? I always say, “I’ve got my priorities right.” I’m a pretty happy guy, and I don’t have much money. I’d probably do what you said you would do if I won the lottery. But I would get the hot car. Definitely.

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Alex @ EsculonSays December 10, 2008 at 1:34 pm

I definitely think money can bring happiness…and I’ve had the same ideas as you, although I would buy a ton of new clothes too!

Anyway, I actually wish I could do charity work now, but can’t afford not to have my regular 9-5. Isn’t that sad? I want to do good, but if I do, I’ll end up BEING the charity case!

I checked out D’s blog too…entered to win that mac! =)

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pjm December 10, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Oddly enough, this morning I was explaining to a running partner how my currently-two-person web development startup was probably going to have a hard time hiring its third person because the two founders are already underpaying themselves. I segued into the point that I would probably be making 50% to 100% more doing what I was doing for nearly any other company.

And then I noted that I have a tremendous amount of freedom in what I do with my time, and because I’ve paid off the student loans, car debt, etc. as long as I make rent and buy the groceries, I really don’t *need* much more money. So why would I give up a job where I’m the boss?

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Susanna (A Modern Mother) December 11, 2008 at 2:51 am

You always have such good posts! I haven’t been here for a while, thanks for reminding me.

As for money, well. What a topical post given today’s times.

We have downsized in the past year and a half when we moved back to the UK (hubby took job that allows him to be home more instead of travelling all the time) and it’s actualy kind of fun to see how far money can go.

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YoonMi December 11, 2008 at 8:48 am

I think money doesn’t buy you happiness; however if you have money – you can live comfortably which ulitmately makes you happy! The one thing I know is not having enough money makes you sad! I think that’s how the saying really should go!

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Katy December 11, 2008 at 11:50 am

My lottery fantasies have pretty much boiled down to paying off ALL our debt, even things like a mortgage which can be stretched over time. Then putting my two college graduates through graduate school, then the one currently in school, and then the one who will be in the college class of 2019. Besides that, I would donate enough to my own alma mater to get something named after me or fund a guest professor each year. Travel, definitely, and I also like the idea of a maid, cook and masseuse and would add a gardener. Oh yeah, and throw lots of parties for my family and friends — catered of course!

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Tracy December 11, 2008 at 11:59 pm

When I think about the positive side of money it’s that having more than enough can’t buy you happiness but it can give you options. Freedom. The ability to be in control of your time. I can’t really think of a lot of things I’d buy, instead I dream of things like having a full time housekeeper or a nanny for when I can’t be two places at once. Making sure my children have the best education possible and a wealth of enriching activities. I could make choices based on what is best for me and my family, without having to sit down with a calculator and a bottle of Advil.

Of course, I’d love to give to charity and perform random acts of generosity.

The thing is, I think I’m already a pretty happy person and like D says, I’d probably just continue doing what I am now only in a much grander fashion. If I were an unhappy person to start off, who knows what sorts of choices I’d make?

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Lisa Robbins December 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Timely post! …I don’t think money buys happiness but it sure makes the things you want to do easier…Love your list. How amazing the world would be if we all would pool our efforts.

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dobre przepisy January 3, 2009 at 6:26 am

Money cant buy happiness! Money helps Us, but never make US better people. Happiness = full bank accaunt? No!

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Ron November 23, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Honestly, I don’t think most people can properly visualize, what great freedom, wealth can buy.

Many persons live within 20-30 mins of their hometowns, all of their lives, and think of vacation like a snowbird and that’s getting away to Florida during the winter seasons. Sigh.. how unoriginal.

Great freedom is doing what you want, when you want. I doubt that most people can work on music, art, or even pure science (yes, it’s called a grant, not a salary w/o tenure & subsequent politics) and in various places on the globe whether it be SF, New York, London, Sydney, or Tokyo. No, most people look for a job which allows for these things and thus, are tethering to a chain of expectations and subtle queues.

On the flip side, it’s good that people are adaptable and can periodically find work which is of interest, but still, if one’s not paid, how long can one continue to do that type of work w/o let’s say a blockbuster script or big IPO?

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world cup 2010 betting odds June 15, 2010 at 1:58 am

These are great articles, I really appriciate your work.

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Emma Hill September 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm

everyone wants to be happy in one way or another;-;

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Kitchen Towels ` October 11, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Happiness is the goal of every human being in this planet , everyone wants to be happy~;:

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Double Headboard December 16, 2010 at 3:03 am

true happiness can be difficult to achieve, you can be rich but still not be truly happy ..`

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Mike Ramsey December 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Thanks for the great insight about money vs happiness….

In my view both have equal value….. it is true that we can not eat money but without money we can’t eat also….. if you don’t eat then you may not be happy, if you think one way…

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