By: Revanche

Can money buy happiness?

March 25, 2014

Can money buy happiness? Yes. But it can't buy some of those others things that are so essential to happiness. Hell yes.

Happiness is: peace of mind, freedom, security, joy.

I started blogging nearly a decade ago, in what now seems to be the early dawn of personal finance blogging. Many of the early blogs I got to know are gone now, those that remain have grown up and moved out, sold to PF conglomerates of one sort or another. A few are still chugging along steadily, big and small, populating the landscape like old neighbors. I like old neighbors. It suggests a homeyness and the coziness of people who understand boundaries and respect them, not expecting too much and not talking too much. I still read a variety of bloggers: life-money, wealth, debt bloggers; and their stories keep pushing me to do a little better today than I did yesterday.

One of those bloggers, Ramit (of I Will Teach You to Be Rich) who needs absolutely no publicity from me, sent around an email recently about how he was going to take off for a skiing weekend; his business would continue to rake in the cash orders of magnitude more than he spent. That, of course, set off one of my classic “If you give a mouse a cookie” moments:

I’d like to be able to send an email to my good friends suggesting a weekend away, and pay for it. But some of them have kids. They might have the flexibility to go on an all expenses paid trip but it’d be a pain for them to say, fly cross country, with kids and all their associated luggage. So it’d be awesomer to charter a plane. Oh even better? It’d be best to have my own plane that I didn’t have to pilot and … ok, this just got a whole lot more expensive.

That got me thinking: Based on my definition, quantitatively speaking, I would say that I am at least three times happier now than I was nearly ten years ago.

But I can always find a way to spend more money. Always. I don’t live profligately but my imagination has no shortage of ideas of how to do things “better” that just so happen to cost a few hundred thousand dollars. Or more. It’s not like I’m a hard-partier who believes in working hard = playing hard, but let’s be honest, I could certainly see myself positively wallowing in luxury should I manage to find a way to unbelievable wealth.

Wouldn’t it follow that it doesn’t matter how much money I have, I wouldn’t be happy?

It’s 2014 and most of my expectations haven’t come true.

  • I didn’t save my parents from themselves. In fact, that was an epic fail as far as what I *thought* was going to happen: happy healthy parents living in the house I’d bought for them, able to travel the world a couple times a year, able to hang out with me and my chosen family.
  • I don’t hold a Master’s degree in anything unless you can have a degree in Grit and Perseverance. You really can’t frame that. Over the years, no degree seemed worth the effort of juggling work and school simultaneously.
  • I don’t have a pack of rescued dogs, in the house I bought before age 30. Nope.

These were just a few things on my 30 by 30 list if that had been a thing half a lifetime ago. I’d just started out in my first post-college job, making below the median salary for the field, fresh-minted in the professional world, if not the financial world. My parents were in dire financial straits, I was going to save them, and all was going to be well in the world.

If we were grading my life, using that list, I’d be transported back to those horrible days in high school when a B felt like the end of all things, good or ill. So why would I contend that money = happiness?

Take a step back

Life isn’t about a pre-determined list and checking off the boxes. In today’s society, that’s really easy to forget.

In no small part due to tripling my salary in the past decade, happiness isn’t some holy grail. It’s part of everyday life thanks to the things I didn’t see coming, not the stuff I so carefully planned.

I’m happily married….
Can’t say I saw that coming. Seriously, even though I spent the last many years in a long term relationship, marriage was still something that I supposed would or wouldn’t happen but I wasn’t focused on it as an end goal.
Instead I was all too aware of how tightly wound I was about every. single. penny. PiC would never admit it out loud (though, party trick: watch his eyes dilate a little if the subject ever comes up) but I was NOT easy to live with when he was privy to me in full-caretaking mode. I was worried ALL the time. I was worried day, night and twilight about whether I was making enough to make rent, to cover the cost of fixing Mom up again after her latest run-away and fall, how I was going to pay for nursing care, how I was going to pay for her and Dad’s continued costs of living. And was I working hard enough to make the case for a serious raise, was I performing at star levels, 24 hours a day? And my health was terrible. Stress, as it turns out, exacerbates the health problems so I was, as far as things go, a pretty awful partner to live with for a few years. Making a lot more money – surprise! – made huge difference.
We now enjoy some luxuries, we’re able to have both some things we want and all our needs are met.
Money didn’t save my mom….
but it gave my parents a place to live and stability that they wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t paying.
My health still sucks….
but I have an actual support network now. In the last few years, PiC and I have learned how to cope with it together. The first 15 years of living with fibro was incredibly lonely and isolating. With his support and help, I can afford to pay for alternative treatments to alleviate the pain. With friends who understand, I have people to talk to about something that’s both horrible and never-ending. Friends who have never been seriously sidelined have no understanding of what it’s like to live like this, and I’d never wish it on them obviously, but it’s still been incredibly isolating.
Freedom & Security
These go hand in hand. I haven’t reached the magic number or magic solution that would mean I could go without employment for months or years but I do have the beginnings of both. I have the ability to plan for them, not just dream of them.

Money can’t buy talent, “success”, brains. It sure as heck never bought me great health. I suppose it could buy some measure of beauty if I cared enough about that.

But money in the bank is how I sleep nights I’d otherwise spend sitting up working a few more hours of overtime, or trying to figure out how to cover this month’s bills. Money in the emergency fund is how I ward off a few more nightmares about how we’re going to survive. Money in the brokerage, and paying down the mortgage, is how we build our more secure future, brick by brick. Money is how I can help others: frees up time to volunteer, frees up resources for those who need it a little more.

Money may not buy the actual sense of happiness or satisfaction but it goes a LONG way to easing the road. Still, the experience of being broke was as enlightening, perhaps more educating, than having been born to it.

The fruit of being broke

A work ethic.
I probably never would have worked as hard as I did to pay down my family’s debts. I probably never would have learned the satisfaction of making it, on my own terms, making the best of anything that came our way.
Believe it or not, any friends I still have are down to my sparkling personality, not my money. (chortles “sparkling”).
This goes with a work ethic. What I have, I earned. And I can be proud of that. And I’ve learned to be proud of my work itself; forget being self effacing!
Some studies say that as wealth increases, empathy and compassion decrease. I can safely say that remembering where I came from, and knowing that you can always give someone a helping hand, will never be a problem. The challenge will be passing along that awareness to the next generation.

Priceless: having a value beyond any price

A sense of style.
My dog’s love. (No seriously, I’ve tried bribing him with all manner of treats. I’mΒ  acceptable for survival purposes but that’s it.)
Depth perception. (Sure, you say “glasses” but I say: that’s how I first fell UP a flight of stairs.)
Common sense. Sure I have some, but a trip to the department store won’t get more.
Appreciation for the good things in life.

:: What’s your take?
:: What are your flights of fancy?

Related posts: Miss Thrifty putting the emergency fund to good use.

19 Responses to “Can money buy happiness?”

  1. eemusings says:

    +1000 to all this.

    The only thing money cannot buy is love but I already had that, as did you. But without enough money to get by love may not survive. Harsh but true. Financial stress can be a death knell.
    eemusings recently posted…Five things you may not know about New ZealandMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Very true. Lack of money doesn’t always destroy love but it’s such a stressor when you also have to navigate being different money personalities.

  2. Michael says:

    You do have a sparkling personality, it takes a few sharp edges to get a really good sparkle going.

    I’d say money can buy happiness…at least the happiness you describe. The sense of security and peace of mind at least. I know that from personal experience at least. It was a long time ago it seems, but it did happen. And I look back at those times and think, okay, I wasn’t rich, but I could afford a few nice things and to go out with friends occasionally and that matters. You may not have achieved your expectations, but it seems like you have achieved quite a lot. And you do a lot of good with it. Life is a journey, you are just getting started. πŸ™‚

    • Revanche says:

      “it takes a few sharp edges” this made me laugh out loud.

      Yeah I like to emphasize I don’t NEED to be rich b/c I find ways to be happy w/however little I have. But I sure could come up with good plans for any richness that might happen!

      • Michael says:

        It’s true though! Look at a diamond, it sparkles because of it’s edges. I also didn’t mean that in a derogatory way. Just meant it in the sense that no one is perfect. πŸ™‚

  3. Perfectly put. I haven’t gone back to all of your older posts and I didn’t know about the fibro, and I can only imagine the difficulty of dealing with being ill more often than not. I had a health issue last fall, and never experienced as much depression as I did in those two months. I still don’t know how to deal with it should anything else come up, so learning to live with it is something that is priceless too. Yes, yes, yes to a work ethic, friends and values (and pride too). It’s nice to know exactly where you stand. Nothing makes my day more than someone calling me up out of the blue and saying “I miss you and wanted to hear your voice.” No amount of money buys that kind of friendship. But does money buy happiness? Hell yes. It will buy me that peace of mind I don’t have every time I think, crap, I’m gonna need another $800 in the next two weeks…I can’t wait to be past all that and have a little more space financially.
    Sally @TinyApartmentDesign recently posted…Humblebrags Heard β€˜Round the World (What It Feels Like Being Not Rich in a Sea of Rich People)My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I don’t talk about the fibro often, I’ve spent more years hiding it than discussing it, so it’s still a journey figuring out how to live with it and how and how much to talk about it. But it’s a major part of life :/ I’m sorry you had to deal with a health crisis of any sort; there’s definitely a link between feeling depression and becoming truly depressed due to prolonged health problems. πŸ™

      But yes, you really can’t buy love or friendship. Well, I mean, you CAN buy or rent a certain kind but that’s not the same.

  4. Clare says:

    This post resonates SO much.
    Clare recently posted…Drew from Across the Table: Installment TwoMy Profile

  5. Abigail says:

    Ha, this brings me back. When I was stressed out to the point of distraction, I’d write up our income/expenses. It soothed me. Granted, the numbers were never realistic — which stressed me out more — and this was before my bipolar-ness was diagnosed and therefore properly medicated. But the point is that I found strength in the idea that things would eventually be alright financially.

    Once we paid off Tim’s student loans and other mainly health-related debt, there was immense relief. That was, unfortunately, replaced by an ongoing sense of frustration at how little we’re saving. But it’s a start.

    And, yes, I’m blessed beyond money. I have a loving spouse who puts up with my me-ness (though I’d like to point out that I put up with his, too), a job with a great boss who pays me entirely too much for what I do, and a house payment that we can always cover, even in the leanest months.

    As for my flights of fancy:
    Traveling when we want
    Having savings (that aren’t going toward double pane windows/oral surgery)
    Nicer clothes for myself
    A Challenger for Tim
    A nicer, bigger house (until I realize that those are two stories, and you don’t want to have to cool two stories in AZ summers)
    Abigail recently posted…Insulating ourselves from insulation (for now)My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      The bigger house: we can always add “that doesn’t cost a fortune to cool” πŸ˜‰
      I always tack on extras like that. Which is how this whole post happened, of course.

  6. SP says:

    Yep – I’m totally on board with this. Money does buy happiness, at least to a certain level. If I were super rich, I think it would just buy more conveniences (i.e. private jets, etc.) rather than true happiness.

    Also – depth perception! I have none. That is partially to blame for my clumsiness, but my whole family is a bit clumsy and I’m the only one with depth perception issues. If I focus really really hard (or get my eyes dilated at the eye doctor), I can make it happen sometimes – but only enough that I feel sad that I can’t always see “in 3D”.

    Sometimes I wonder “what if” re: blogging. My blog has never been anything other than a pure hobby, and I’m often sloppy / lazy with it, etc. But I started early enough that PF blogging was a fairly open niche, and perhaps I could have tried to make a name for myself in the blogging world. Then I remember that the reason I enjoy blogging is because I keep it very no-pressure. I like how you describe the neighborhood. I miss some of our old neighbors though!

    What’s your take on Ramit, anyway? Just curious. I’m on his e-mail lists too, but I’m not his target market, I don’t think.
    SP recently posted…Living the good life in a high cost of living area on $250kMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      You’re saying having a private jet is NOT happiness??? πŸ˜‰ I kid.

      Man. I wonder what life is like with depth perception. You must NOT bounce off walls, doors, doorframes, fall over the dog, chairs, and tables, I imagine.

      I thnk you’ve hit it on head with the blogging world, there. Same here. I’m very good at what I’m willing to focus on and work at, but there’s a somewhat limited set of things I’m willing to turn into work. My workaholism notwithstanding.

      Ramit: I may not be his target audience but I’ve found a lot of either valuable tools or information that I may not have thought of, articulated, or tried. Or reinforced the things I was already doing. I’ve always balanced a part debt-paydown, part-wealth builder mentality so I keep reading in case there’s more to glean.

      • SP says:

        I totally agree – he’s has a unique perspective compared to some other big PF blogs, and is very pragmatic about what works. Ohhhh, I totally used his car buying method (or rather, I made T use it). If you don’t recall, the strategy is to call basically every dealer of your chosen brand tell them you want to buy a car today, and ask them to call you back with the lowest price for the model you want. Then you take the lowest bid, and call back around and see if anyone can beat that. It was intense, but we got a pretty great deal.

        Although a lot of the info is free, I ultimately unsubscribed because there was always products/courses/things he wanted to sell, and then it veered into dream job type stuff, which isn’t something I thought I needed help with. I guess that is what I meant by not his target audience – he will never convince me that my money is worth parting with for his products. Aside from a $10 book.

  7. As I read your post, I thought back to what my Dad always said to me, “Money is not ultimate in life. But ultimately, you need money in life.” I think this is a very true statement. I think money can take care of a lot of problems, but other problems will eventually creep up too. I think it’s about enjoying the here and now & knowing yourself – instead of comparing oneself to who you’d want to be, what others expect you to be and where you think you should be.
    The Asian Pear recently posted…Jury Duty SelectionMy Profile

  8. […] ‘money buys peace of mind’. But I truly believe money DOES buy happiness, for all the reasons Revanche points out.Β Too many people say they’d rather be poor and in love than rich and alone without actually […]

  9. debT debS says:

    Wow! My hats off to you! Blogging for almost 10 years! I hope that you have got out of it as much or more than you put in. Also, I commend you for looking after your parents. I’m sure you didn’t have to think twice about it, but still, kudos for you as it can’t be easy.
    debT debS recently posted…Throwing up a Blog Time CapsuleMy Profile

  10. […] it). Not having it was the fire under my butt to do better. Having it was a watershed moment, and purchased a sense of stability, and security that I haven’t felt since I was too young to worry about the family. (I was around 8, coming […]

  11. […] Some of you are overestimating your net worth. Speaking of money, did you know it is also a story? And yes, money can buy happiness. […]

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