Our culture has an interesting relationship with money.  While there are as many variations on this as there are people, the general sense is that we all want more money because we will feel better, people will like us more, we will be more acceptable.

There is also the contrarian approach of those who secretly want more money, don’t have it, and want to look like they know best.

So, if we hone in on one phrase to express this, it might be “money buys happiness”.

Is this really true?

Turns out, the jury is still out.

Let’s break this down a bit to get some clarity.  First off, should “happiness” be the desired end result in the first place?  I would argue that, instead of happiness, having joy, contentment,  and love are better things to move toward.  Happiness tends to be temporary, transitory, fleeting, and fickle.  Something might happen one moment that makes us happy, then the next moment, another thing might happen that makes us unhappy.  Joy, contentment, and love tend to be things we put in place deliberately.

If we look at money’s impact on joy, contentment, and love, John Lennon said it best: “Money can’t buy me love.”

There are nuances to this, though.  The lead author of a study connecting salary with happiness or satisfaction conducted at Purdue University said this:

“We found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being… this amount is for individuals and would likely be higher for families.”

Apparently, then, we can put a price on happiness, or at least connect a dollar amount to life satisfaction.

Another factor can be debt.  This article published in Quartz highlights how heavily debt depresses the sense of well-being, and conversely, how the absence of debt lifts the mood.  (I’d have to agree, having been on both sides of the coin plenty of times in my life…)

In other words, money can buy happiness up to a point, but debt is depressing.

But how do we explain the many stories of people who live in extreme poverty, or have very little, and have a high level of contentment?

We’d have to ask Mother Theresa or Ghandi (or a host of other examples), but I don’t think it comes down to a question of money (or lack thereof) for them.  Some of us (myself excluded) have learned the fine art of contentment, inner peace, self actualization, or whatever your favorite term for it is.  They have found a way to effectively control what makes them content, without being influenced by what’s around them or focusing on what makes them “happy”.

Contentedness is their superpower…

Did I go on a tangent here?  Nope – this is deliberate.

There are three things I want to get across with this:

  1. Money, or rather our relationship with money, has a significant effect on our emotional well-being
  2. Debt has an even more deleterious impact on us
  3. We’d all feel so much better if, instead of focusing on the financial picture or on happiness, we just keep our money straight and focus on contentedness instead