Can Money Really Not Buy Happiness?

Unless you have been living under a rock, chances are you have heard the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” It’s a classic, really. The line normally gets thrown around when a wealthy person is in the headlines for something tragic: A loss of a loved one, a divorce, a terminal illness, a suicide, and so on. “See…having all the wealth in the world isn’t going to make you happy,” the public says. While it is true that you can’t just go to a store and buy happiness, having money helps you find it, but if and only if you already know where to look.

Here’s the thing: money cannot buy you happiness if you see it as a destination or an end. Some people only aspire to be rich, and get there only to find themselves asking “What now?” Once they crash from the high of being wealthy, they cease to have things to aspire to. All they ever wanted in life was to have a lot of spending power and feel invincible, and once that has been achieved, they are lost and have no idea where to go next.

However, there are also people who see money as a means to an end. Instead of making it their Point B, they look at money as if it’s a bridge, or a way to get somewhere. These people have a purpose, and use their money towards something they’re passionate about. For example, imagine a person who has worked hard his whole life and accumulated wealth in order to build schools in a poor district. The number of zeroes in his bank account isn’t his source of happiness. Instead, it is a means for him to reach his goal: Provide education to the underprivileged youth.

Kashkore: Money Can Buy Marshmallows
(Flickr User: David Koontz)

Those who see money as a means to an end, metaphorically, use their wealth to buy a key to unlock doors to many worlds of possibilities. Those who see it as an end, use it to buy a million keys with no doors to open.

So, sure. “Money can’t buy happiness,” because only a fool would think that something with no intrinsic value such as money would bring joy to their lives. The wise, on the other hand, understands that it’s nothing but a tool to aid him or her to achieving greater things.

Having a lot of money, if earned legally and ethically, is good. Great. Amazing. But all it can do is help make it easier for you to reach your goals. It shouldn’t be the goal. If you have no substance as a human being, then all the money in the world isn’t going to make you happy. Don’t ever be guilted into thinking that aspiring to become wealthy is bad, because it is not, as long as you know you have a good reason for wanting to be.

The fictional tycoon Francisco d’Anconia from Ayn Rand’s 1000+ page classic, Atlas Shrugged, says it best in his epic rant about a money-hating partygoer at Hank Rearden’s ball:

But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires… Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values… Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgement, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money [emphasis added]. (411)

Be bigger than your money and use it to get where you want to go. Don’t make it your destination.



I write about exceptional people in pop culture and business, and about things related to money, style, and life.


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