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Can Money Make Me Happy

Updated on January 28, 2013

Can money make me happy? While all along ancient philosophers like Lao Tzu and Buddha maintained that materialism is an anathema to peaceful and happy life, the recent researches notably by Tim Kasser, author of the High Price of Materialism and Associate Professor of Psychology at Knox College, Illinois conclusively puts forward the scientific evidences for the same. He goes on to document how consumerism and materialism adversely impact our everyday happiness and psychic health.

According to a variety of studies conducted by Tim Kasser, those that make pursuit of money a significant goal score lower for mental health. Further, although Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan maintain that although few people might claim money as their top goal, the problems become evident even if money is more important in comparison to the other goals. In other words, the problem is there even if money is the fourth, fifth, and sixth goal among your top eleven goals. As against when money is among the bottom few goals. Kasser identifies several problems encountered by people that place a higher priority on materialism. Such people are prone to depression, anxiety and lower self esteem. They are likely to face behavioral and physical problems apart from difficult relationships. They score lower on scales testing vitality, liveliness, vigor and self actualization. It is not the affluence that causes these problems but the goal to be affluent that draws people in a vortex of physical and mental problems. The findings by researchers including Kasser have been similar across age groups, nationalities and income levels.

Why would chasing money result in lower self esteem and lower well being? Could it be possible that those that chase money are unhappy to begin with? Kasser and Ryan speculate that those that pursue money have less time for other positive pursuits such as building relationships. Researches however conclusively show that “what makes you happy is being connected to others and being free to express who you are”.


According to a study by Kennon Sheldon, psychologist at the university of Missourie-Columbia, among the psychological needs that creates happiness and fulfillment, money comes at the last. The four most essential needs are autonomy, competence, a sense of closeness to others, and self esteem. Autonomy gives you the feeling that your actions are self chosen and self endorsed. Sense of competence gives you a feeling that you are competent in what you do.

What is of importance in Kasser’s findings is that he has a decade’s worth of empirical data to base his findings upon. When we center our life around materialism, it slowly takes toll on us, on our internal experience and on our interpersonal relationships.

We adversely impact and are impacted upon by our communities and the universe we live in at large. In a nutshell, materialistic values negatively affect our well being in a number of ways. Materialism gives rise to the feelings of insecurity. They weaken our relationship ties and steal away our autonomy. Kasser also offers a chapter on how we can bring about a change in our materialistic pursuit.

However, the question is how do we go about "implementing the changes necessary to reach a more inwardly rich vision of the good life." What are some ways that we can shift our priorities from that hunger for "more" to accomplishments that are beyond material?

Kaaser offers a solution toward the end of the book. According to him an individual is largely a product of the society he lives in which in this case is materialistic society. “society tells us to be even more materialistic, and on it goes. If we can break this cycle at several of its links and put in place a more humane and satisfying pattern based on intrinsic values, positive changes will be likely to accrue”.

He further goes on to propose a series of strategies to be implemented at the personal, familial and societal levels. Beginning with personal level, we need to change our values and attitudes for which we need to take assistance from “friends, family, therapists, religious leaders, or whomever we trust”.

One must keep the materialistic aims in balance with intrinsic aims, and “always to have healthier aims dominant. He advises that we confront what is scaring us – insecurity, death, self-worth – as well as work through and accept them. Besides, investment in self knowledge is therapeutic. “By sorting through painful past experience, irrational beliefs and unacknowledged fears people can become free of these chains and find healthier ways of coping than making money and consuming things"

Yet another advice that Kasser has for us is to get off the materialistic treadmill. The idea here is to recognize inherent dissatisfaction in the rat race. Our past recollection would inform us that we never became happier with each materialistic possession as wanting something more weighed heavy on our psyche. We can fill our emptiness and improve our well being if we pick something intrinsic that makes us feel happy and fulfilled.

We have to ask why we want money after all. Money is never an end but only a means. Thus we need to focus on our true psychological needs so that we can easily find ways to meet them. While being in a relationship can be truly satisfying, but problematic relationships can dent us mentally and psychologically.

Building the relationship back can take our focus away from material pursuits and could offer an immensely satisfying relationship. Next, Kasser advises us to change our activities. In nutshell bringing about a change involves beginning primarily at the individual level but they alone are not sufficient. Changes at the family and social level are even more critical because we are living in a social world that acts and interacts. We are affected by advertisement, mass media and societal values.

The materialistic social values also need to be transformed as they begin indoctrinating right since our early childhood days. There is thus the need to regulate advertisements. Advertisements are a form of pollution against which the society can devise legal strategies. However, there is also the need at the same time to support ethical and intrinsically oriented corporations.

As citizens, we can vote for government officials that recognize that increasing national wealth will not increase our happiness. If the global hunger and poverty is addressed collectively, people will be more secure and hence less materiaklistic. The national governments need to experiment with an alternative economic model that can truly meet the economic insecurities of people.


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