Does money buy happiness?

Written by Sam on May 1, 2007 – 8:55 pm -

Assessing lifelong learning & the pursuit of happinessAnother article from Money magazine writer Jean Chatzky recently caught my eye. The article discussed whether or not money can buy happiness – or more specifically if buying things brings happiness. It caused me to reflect upon the role money has played in my life and how it has or hasn’t contributed to my happiness.

Little statistical correlation between money and happiness

There’s really no scientific basis that equates money to happiness. In fact, the Money magazine article points out that there’s little difference in the overall happiness of millionaires vs. the middle class. Money can affect happiness if it brings someone out of poverty, but past that it has little to do with overall happiness.

One survey found “virtually the same level of happiness between the very rich individuals on the Forbes 400 and the Maasai herdsman of East Africa.”

Another study actually did find a positive correlation between money and happiness but concluded that the increased happiness was not a result of earning a pre-determined amount of money but rather how much money people made compared to others in their age group. It was a “keep up with the Joneses” mentality.

Yet another survey showed little correlation between money and happiness and points out that those with incomes over $100,000 a year spend 19.9% of their time engaging in leisure activities while those making less than $20,000 spent 34% of their time on leisure activities. This implies that those with more leisure time have more happiness (a conclusion I don’t quite agree with).

Some polls show that Americans are no more happy now than they were 50 years ago despite large increases in the overall standard of living. A Minnesota University researcher postulates that happiness is 50% genetics and 50% determination. As Abraham Lincoln once said “Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Spend money on experiences

If you’re determined to spend money in the attempt to find happiness, Jean recommends spending money on experiences rather than objects. Objects may give us a temporary boost in happiness, but most people quickly adjust back to normal levels of happiness where the object becomes part of the norm. On the other hand, if the object gives you particular experiences, the memory of the experience or even friendships created during the experience can produce much longer-lasting, robust happiness.

What would you be doing if you were financially independent?

I was recently contemplating what my life would be like if I were financially independent and had enough money to do or have anything I wanted. What would I do every day? What would I have been doing that evening? As I thought, I realized that I would have spent the evening exactly the way I had just spent it — spending time with my wife and family and engaging in things that I’m passionate about (writing this blog being one of them). I powerfully realized at that moment that money had absolutely no impact on my happiness that day. Having more money I may have spent time with my family in a nicer house or wrote articles for this site on a nicer computer but those things wouldn’t have made me any more happy (with the possible exception having dual monitors which does make me consistently happy).

When I started this website I set three goals for myself:

  1. Enjoy myself – I would only continue creating and managing this site if I enjoyed doing it. If I found I wasn’t enjoying a majority of the time I spent writing, I would stop.
  2. Help others – I hope to be able to give others the tools they need to get control of their finances. If I can even help just a few people gain clarity about their finances I’ve succeeded.
  3. Earn supplemental income – Notice that this is the last and least important goal. If I never make a dime from this site but accomplish the first two goals, this project is a success. As it is, this site actually has generated a decent supplemental income most of which I plan to reinvest in financial management tools or products.

It was clear to me when I created Getting Finances Done that making money couldn’t be my first or only goal. What an empty, meaningless project it would be for me if that were the case. So far it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience as I’ve seen the discussions, comments and questions that have been raised. Doing what I’m passionate about has created way more happiness than any money I’ve made.

Some material things that make me happy

On the other hand, there are some material things that have contributed to my happiness. These are typically things that either a) I consciously enjoy on a daily basis or b) things that promote interaction with others.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I jokingly referred to my dual LCD monitors above. While it may seem bizarre, they truly bring me a degree of happiness. I use them every day and consistently find them improving my work flow and increasing my quality of life. I find conscious enjoyment from them. I haven’t “gotten used to them” so to speak. Maybe my perceived increase in happiness from the dual-monitor goodness is not really an increase in happiness but simply an increase in my standard of living and quality of life. Is there a difference? Would I be less happy without dual monitors? In some small way I think I would be slightly less happy or have less enjoyment but I certainly wouldn’t go into depression or have a significant decrease in happiness.

An example of something that promotes interaction with others is a game (video or board game). My wife and I have been fans of Dance Dance Revolution for some time and have had many opportunities to play with others. This activity has helped us develop relationships with others that bring happiness, both in the moment and ongoing. I realize that the true happiness comes more from the interaction with others than the game, but the game can facilitate increased happiness and is definitely fun to play in the moment. There have been many board games that we’ve played with friends and family to a similar end.

Assessing lifelong learning & the pursuit of happiness

In the end I tend to think that happiness is mostly a choice that can be slightly enhanced or degraded by some material things. But if we’re looking to outward things as the basis for our happiness we’re on unstable ground. Focusing on serving, health, lifelong learning, relationships, and doing things you’re passionate about are much better foundations for persistent happiness. The Get Rich Slowly blog has a nice summary of Ten Steps to Greater Happiness that are more effective than most material attempts at happiness.

Happiness, health, wealth, money

What makes you happy? Does money bring you happiness? Do material things bring you happiness? A little? A lot? What would you do if you were financially independent and could spend your days however you wanted?

Related articles:

Posted in Money, Relationship | 9 Comments »

8 ways to prepare to become a millionaire

Written by Sam on January 16, 2007 – 9:13 pm -

8 ways to prepare to become a millionaireToday I went to lunch with a very wealthy person. I don’t know exactly how wealthy , but based on his frequent trips to Maui, the fact that he earns a free plane ticket every month through his frequent flier points, and the fact that the other day he decided to go out and buy a truck just because he’s never had one before, there’s good reason to believe he’s close to a seven-digit earner. As I talked with him, it raised a lot of questions in my mind about how managing my finances will change as my wealth grows. If I were a millionaire would I still need to budget? Would I still want to track all my spending? Would I still need to negotiate with my wife about finances? It seems logical that with an income over $1,000,000 a year you wouldn’t need to plan as vigorously. But in the end thats a lie. Millionaires that manage their money irresponsibly can quickly lose it all and fall from grace (MC Hammer comes to mind).

Financial management principles are the same for millionaires and low-income-earners alike. Certainly the numbers your dealing with will change, but the basic principles and processes are still the same. In fact, by following sound financial management principles and optimizing your frame of mind, you can accelerate the process of building wealth and know how to keep it when you arrive. Here are 7 ideas that will help you think about and manage money like a millionaire, regardless of your income.

Read more »

Posted in Budgeting, Couples, Finances, Money, Personal Finance, Relationships, Saving, Spending | 24 Comments »

Making your cash last until the end of the month

Written by Sam on December 18, 2006 – 10:06 pm -

If you’re a regular reader of GFD, you’ll know I’m a big fan of using cash to control your spending. But up to this point I haven’t really gotten into a lot of detail about how I manage my cash. To tell you the truth, there are almost NO tools out there for managing a cash-based budget other than the common envelope. Wallets are great for carrying a single chunk of cash, but they don’t help you organize cash by categories. This leaves a lot of room for creative thinking about how to manage your cash.

Greg over at has a unique and GTD friendly way of managing cash involving envelopes, index cards, and paper clips. His method is a great way of divvying out your cash so you don’t spend it all at the beginning of the month, leaving you living like a pauper at the end of the month. It’s essentially a sort of cash tickler file (look under “Tools and techniques”).

Please let us know how you manage your cash!

Cash Allowance File

Posted in Budget, Budgeting, Cash, Finances, Money, Personal Finance, Spending, Tools | 5 Comments »

Sunday Shopping Circulars Online

Written by Sam on December 15, 2006 – 3:30 pm -

I’ve been posting a lot lately about spending money. Like many people, I’m in holiday shopping mode and I figured I’d share some of my favorite ways to save money on items I’m planning on buying anyway.

Last week I mentioned in passing a great site called that allows you to see Sunday shopping circulars online. It’s almost a tradition for me to browse the shopping circulars every Sunday looking for deeply discounted items and rebate deals that allow you to save a lot of money. With a little patience, you can usually find the specific types of items your looking for. That is, as long as it’s not Black Friday. makes it even easier to find deals in the Sunday circulars. It catalogs every item in every circular and makes them searchable online. When I’m look for a specific item, it’s much easier to just perform a search rather than sifting through the other 99% of the items that aren’t relevant.

When you perform a search be sure to notice there are two areas you can search: online and local. When you perform your initial search, you’ll see the online items. To see the local items, you need to click on “switch to local offers” in purple on the right side of the screen. Once you switch to view local offers, all subsequent searches will also be for local deals.


Power Browse the Circulars

Sometimes I’m not wanting maximum efficiency, but rather want to browse the circulars to find unexpected deals. With ShopLocal you can do that too! In fact, you can power browse. To view the actual circulars, click on “See all Circulars” in the left navigation. Once you select a circular there are two different ways to look at them. By default you will see a small picture of the circular with the individual items for sale listed on the right.

Best Buy Circular

You can also view a larger version of the circular by clicking “Enlarge this page” (under the circular). When you roll your mouse over an item, a box shows with the description and pricing. To get more information you just click on the box and wallah! You can also save items to a list which is useful when I find several deals on the same item and want to compare later.

Best Buy Circular

The site has several other features such as browsing by category or store. Give it a try next time your looking for a specific item or if you want to have an enhanced circular experience.

Feel free to share more of your favorite shopping sites. Also check out my list of online shopping websites that use RSS feeds.

Posted in Money, Saving, Spending, Tools | 4 Comments »

The 11th way to save money this holiday season

Written by Sam on December 5, 2006 – 8:19 pm -

Last month I had the chance to meet Lynn from at a blogging workshop conducted by Steve Pavlina. She has some great ideas about advertising to yourself rather than just be exposed to the constant messages and agendas of others that surround us.

Lynn has posted a great response to my “10 ways to save money this Christmas” post. She advocates taking it easy for the holidays and negotiating a “cease fire” with friends and family by opting out of gift exchanges. Instead, use the holidays as a time to slow down and reflect on your life and goals. In particular, I liked her analogy of hibernating bears:

Most living species in this ecosystem respond to the absence of light and the plummeting temperatures by drawing inward for a long period of quiet regeneration. Except humans, who plan parties, decorate their homes, and flock like manic lemmings to shopping malls.

The very best way to save money on your Christmas shopping is to simply stop participating in the compulsory insanity. Instead, take naps, build fires, read books, watch movies, play games, listen to music, snuggle, talk and sip cocoa.

I am now free to hibernate a bit in this coldest, darkest month. I have noticed that lights and decorations seem prettier and the connections I do make with family are far more enjoyable now that I am more in sync with my inner hibernating bear.

How awesome is that? I love the idea of getting in sync with my “inner hibernating bear.” Her point is well taken. Society really speeds things up during the holidays. It would be more healthy, and less expensive, if we were to slow down and take time to enjoy the season and reflect on our lives. By doing so we would all feel less of a need to compensate for our anxiety and overwhelm by overspending. If only I had given time for such reflection before my Black Friday craziness!

Check out Lynn’s post and her website:

That perfect gift – part 1

Take Back Your Brain!

Posted in Money, Saving, Spending | 1 Comment »

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