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Does Money Buy Happiness?

Research suggests the answer is no.

Source: Sally Jermain/Pixabay
Source: Sally Jermain/Pixabay

We’ve heard countless times that money cannot buy happiness. But how many people really believe that?

We see someone with a nice car, and we think, “If I had that, I’d be happy.” We hear about someone winning $100,000,000 in the lottery, and we think, “If I won that, I’d be happy.” We see, on social media, that one of our friends purchased a beautiful home, and we think, “Wow! If I had that, all would be well.” Does money buy happiness?

Scientists investigated this question. They found that in societies with little money, there were still levels of happiness. A paper was published in 2021, in collaboration with McGill University and the University of Barcelona. Here’s what was found:

Scientists interviewed 678 people, between their mid-twenties and early fifties, in the Solomon Islands and Bangladesh, particularly those living in more rural and poor areas. They got a sense of moods, lifestyle, fishing activities, household incomes, and market integration. In both these countries, scientists compared the poorer society to their counterparts, people who lived in larger metropolitan cities and who were doing much better financially.

The truth of happiness

Researchers found two main things: the people living in urban areas and making a lot more money reported lower levels of happiness. Yet, the people living in more impoverished areas with less income reported higher levels of happiness. Also, rural societies enjoyed time with family and being in nature.

Researchers concluded that in these poorer countries, people were happy, and in urban areas where people were staying ahead, the monetary gains may even be detrimental to their happiness. This supports the concept that happiness is not principally related to economic output. When people feel safe, they are comfortable.

And interestingly, scientists found that though most of the world on social media compares themselves with their peers, which can cause unhappiness, in these more rural areas, that was not the case.

What can we learn from this study?

First off, these rural communities were not starving. They lived in a community where their basic needs were easily met. The main thing they had was a sense of community and nature. These two factors seemed to contribute to the overall reported levels of happiness.

Acquiring more things, wanting more things, wishing for more things – they really weren’t prevalent in these rural areas.

Wealth is not bad

In and of itself, money does not cause us harm. I work with many people who do exceptionally well, and they are happy people. Wealth doesn’t make us unhappy in and of itself. What makes us unhappy is sacrificing for that wealth or getting attached to things. And if we could believe that we don’t need things to be happy, we would make different choices in life. Can you believe that?

And it’s okay to go to a university and find a good job that would support us and our family. It’s just the emphasis would not be on “things” but on family and friends, and a sense of community.

If we made this our emphasis, we would do things at a slower pace, we would do it without waiting on the “someday I will get there” thought. We would reach out to friends and spend time with them. We would find time to read a book, go for a walk in the park, and watch the sunset.

We would do our work because we enjoyed it. We would take vacations because they are wonderful. We would spend time with family and friends because it makes our hearts sing. We would do things in nature, and spend time doing things to be at peace with the world and the universe. Because that brings us joy.

Instead, we make our focus on living well Now

Our minds are tricky. We often say, “Okay, I’m going to work really hard for a while, and then I will start living.” But that’s the trick, as we can do that for ages, but we don’t even know if we will get to a point where we can enjoy life. We may be so exhausted and have health problems. We may have collateral damage from everyone we’ve lost or hurt because we’re working all the time.

We may not even reach our goal, you see. We may spend all this time, all this energy, and all this sacrifice for a financial goal, and then it’s gone.

The fisherman

One of the best stories that illustrates this point is about a man who fishes. He has a small boat, and he goes out into the ocean to fish for a while. He comes back with enough fish to eat. He’s just sitting at the beach enjoying his fish and enjoying the beautiful nature around him.

A rich man sees him and says, “What are you doing? Did you know that if you kept fishing all day long, you could make a lot more money? You could come back and not only just eat your fish, but you could also sell the extra. Then when you’ve made enough money from that, you could buy more boats and hire people to help you catch even more fish. Then you’d have so much money that you’d reach a point when you could relax and enjoy yourself all day long. If you worked really hard, you’d be able to do that in 10 or 20 years from now.”

The fisherman looked at the rich man and said, “That’s what I’m doing now! Why would I do all that?”

There’s deep wisdom here

We need to realize that this is life. We must stop waiting for monetary things to change before we start living. There’s always something beautiful we can enjoy. We really don’t need much to be happy. We just need people in our lives to laugh, play, and have fun. And we need to spend time just soaking up life and enjoying the beauty all around us. Those are the things that we need.

Happiness is available to every one of us

At all times of our life, no matter what, we can be happy. If we do make this our focus, then the things in life don’t really matter. If we are older, living in a retirement community, then we have our friends to spend time with and activities we can do with them.

If we’re younger and having a hard time getting by financially, perhaps we can sell everything and get a van, and convert it into a livable space. Then we can travel and explore. We can enjoy all the beauty around us. No, it isn’t perfect, but they are doing things that they love instead of acquiring things to be happy.

"What am I going to do today to find joy and happiness in my life?”

Happiness is free

Right now, can you call up a friend and go for a walk with them? Can you make dinner for your friends? Can you go outside and watch a beautiful sunset? Can you build a small fire and read a book?

These things will bring you happiness. They are simple. Don’t compare yourselves with others, and don’t wish for more. Happiness is right here and right now. All we must do is connect with the present moment. If we focus on the things that truly make us happy and put energy toward them, we will always find happiness.

Life is truly a beautiful adventure – one day at a time, one breath at a time.


McGill University. (2021, February 8). Happiness really does come for free: People in societies where money plays a minimal role can have very high levels of happiness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2022 from

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