Does money actually buy happiness? Here's the answer.

Katy Sunshine

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Whenever you see someone who’s a celebrity or famous, saying that they wish more people knew that money doesn’t buy happiness, you kind of take it with a grain of salt, right?

They’re able to say that because they have the privilege and the effortlessness of knowing that their bills will be paid on time and they will have a comfortable life.

Meanwhile, you're struggling to pay bills and barely making rent each month. Those celebrities must be absolutely full of it. Of course you'd be happier if you weren't so stressed about money all the time. Right?

It's easy to resent.

This may or may not surprise you, but studies show that money actually can buy you happiness (sort of). However, it's at a much lower number than you'd expect.

The magic number for money buying you happiness is about $75,000 per year. Meaning that you can pay your bills, live a comfortable life, and buy yourself some material pleasures and enjoyment. The stress of living paycheck to paycheck has vanished, and you can "treat yo self" whenever you feel like it.

But past a certain point, there is no longer a correlation between the amount of money you make and your everyday happiness. In fact, there can actually be negative returns on the amount of money that you make. Ever heard the saying, "more money, more problems?" That can definitely become true.

For example, making large amounts of money sometimes requires working long hours at a high-stress job that you don't enjoy -- a job which you’re giving up so much time that the happiness given to you by money is no longer worth it psychologically.

Additionally, there’s this concept called the hedonic treadmill. It means that regardless of the peaks and valleys of your life, you usually end up returning to the same emotional state in the end. Although a positive event such as a raise or promotion may give you an initial burst of happiness, our emotional state tends to gradually return to the baseline eventually.

The reason is, biologically, our bodies crave homeostasis. And since so much of our emotions are based on brain chemistry, it makes sense that your body is going to try and get itself back to the state that it's used to. You can thank evolution for that.

Maybe it’s not so much that you crave being rich or famous, or that there is some magic number that will make all of your problems go away. But evolution has also wired us to always want more.

We crave the feeling of having achieved that number or that status. We are constantly chasing that rush of initial happiness that an accomplishment brings.

Don't blame yourself, because it's only natural. It's simply a chemical reaction. When we achieve "more," our brains release dopamine. It's a pleasure chemical, and obviously we all want to feel pleasure. (I actually wrote a blog post on how our phone notifications do the same thing.)

So once you do receive that promotion, that raise, or possibly even that fame that you are looking for, you feel that initial dopamine rush of happiness and accomplishment. But once your emotional state returns to its homeostasis, you're left feeling the same as before.

Now what does that mean exactly? It means that no matter how rich you get, you'll never stop feeling like you still want more.

You get caught in the vicious cycle of "maybe the next car, the next promotion, will finally make me happy." And time and time again, it does not. It won't make you satisfied. You may have an extraordinarily comfortable life, but might not have a meaningful one.

So the question is, how can we achieve the pleasure and good feelings that we so crave, and make them actually last?

The answer is surprisingly simple: Gratitude.

Scientific studies show that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Looking around and finding things to be grateful for can replace that constant craving for accomplishment. Focusing on what you have, rather than what you lack. It can be summed up in one of my favorite quotes: "Once you need less, you will have more."

Rather than looking for more money to achieve happiness, look at other areas of your life that can already bring you joy simply by appreciating them.

Be grateful for the people around you. Think about that friend or family member who you value. Cherish and nurture your relationship with them, and others.

Prioritize your personal growth and development. Figure out the deeper reason for wanting what you do. Look inside yourself and figure out who you are, what you want, and what a meaningful life looks like to you.

It is all about the feeling that we are searching for, and you can get that feeling in many different ways regardless of how much money you make.

With that said, I’m not saying to throw away any desires that you may have to make a better life for yourself. Nor am I trying to invalidate people who feel one way or another about their accomplishments. Whether you’re financially well off, or whether you’re in a period of life in which you’re really struggling, money is still a factor in your well-being and your feelings towards it are valid.

Talking about how money impacts happiness is instead a valid way of discussing how we often decide on these arbitrary markers for what makes a good and happy life that don’t actually exist. Our society puts such a huge emphasis on material wealth, and not enough on our inner wealth/wellbeing.

Additionally, the purpose of knowing how we're psychologically wired -- that dopamine plays a role -- should be empowering. Because you can achieve these good feelings of joy, happiness, and contentment by being grateful for what you already have.

When you step out of the cycle of "more" and instead adopt an outlook of already having enough.. You may eventually find that what you already have is even more than enough.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

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I write about mental health, holistic living, and how to find joy and meaning in your life.

Honolulu, HI
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