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The Haves and the Have Nots: Why Can't Money Buy Happiness?

Updated on December 20, 2013

Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Have you ever had to decide between keeping the lights turned on or your water? Have you ever been late with the rent because you needed to repair your car? Have you dined on a diet of beans and Ramen for a week straight because the grocery store doesn't take I.O U.s? This, my friends, is the daily reality of a large percentage of Americans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, 46.5 million Americans currently live at or below the poverty line. These are not necessarily people who you would recognize as being poor if you ran into them at the Supermarket. There are no special "I am poor" club pins or jackets that they must wear to identify themselves as struggling Americans. They could be your neighbor or your good friend. They are likely to be the waitress at your favorite restaurant, the cashier at Walmart, or your friendly neighborhood pizza delivery guy. They work very hard and often must work two jobs just to put food on the table. Many jobs that pay minimum wage also do not offer health insurance benefits (or any benefits at all).

Minimum Wage v. Inflation


When Minimum Wage Isn't Enough

Unless you are are a teenager entering the work force for the first time or a single person splitting the bills with several roommates (or still living at home), minimum wage will not be enough. The current minimum wage is not a living wage. While the cost of living has gone up drastically, minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation leaving families struggling more than ever.

One of the biggest arguments that I have seen against government assistance for families such as this is the fear that these families will become dependent on the assistance and will not try to better their situation. Obviously, you are going to find individuals who will take advantage of the system. However, out of the 46.5 million Americans living in poverty, a greater percentage want to make it on their own. They are searching for that illusive American dream. They want to own their own home, feed their families, afford entertainment, go to the doctor when they are sick, keep their cars in good repair, afford an education, and not have to worry about how they are going to pay their bills!

So, Can Money Make You Happy?

I have heard the saying since I was a child and, to be honest, I've never quite understood what was meant by it: "Money can't buy you happiness". From my point of view, even as a child, those with money always seemed a whole lot happier than those without. I am not saying that every person with money is always very happy or that every person without money is always very sad. A person's attitude and their outlook on life goes a long way to determine whether or not they will be happy. What I am saying is that being poor, having to constantly worry about financial shortfalls, adds a level of stress that not only taxes a person's physical health, but their mental health as well. A study performed by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick showed that people with low income who worried about their financial problems carried a mental load that was equivalent to losing an entire night's sleep. The study showed that even their ability to concentrate enough to further their education or to even remember to pay bills was affected by the stress of their financial situations. Stress that affects a person's whole self such as this can leave a person feeling hopeless, believing they lack the ability to change their situation.

So, what if that minimum wage job actually paid a living wage? Having enough money to pay the bills, keep the car running, and keep a roof over your head while having a little extra in your pocket to enjoy a beer with your friends can indeed make you happier. Removing the stress of constantly worrying about which bills to juggle can help you to become more mentally prepared to climb that ladder to success.

The next time you hear someone quote, "Money can't buy you happiness", ask them to define happiness. If you can agree that "peace of mind" is equivalent to "happiness", then money can INDEED buy happiness!

By: Traci Ruffner

The American Dream

What do you believe is meant by "The American Dream"?

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    • mtkomori profile image

      Takako Komori 

      4 years ago from Yokohama, Japan

      I guess your conclusion is that money affects the mental state of a person and doesn't necessarily determine whether or not they are happy. I once read somewhere that "happiness is not reality, it's a state of mind."

      So how a person feels about his/her financial situation determines his/her happiness, not the amount of money he/she has.

      I've often thought about the question of whether or not money buys happiness. Thank you for shedding some light on it

    • Craeft profile image


      4 years ago from Grand Blanc, MI


      I have 3 undergrad degrees and 95K student loan debt. And of course, you can't declare bankruptcy to clear your student loan debt.

      I would like to go back to school for a few things, but it's just not in the cards because of the above.

    • Traci Ruffner profile imageAUTHOR

      Traci Ruffner 

      4 years ago from Raleigh, North Carolina

      I really hope you are able to find something and know how difficult it is. Degrees are becoming more and more necessary in order to get a job and yet the jobs you get with degrees are paying less and less. We end up with thousands in student debt that we are unable to pay. Something has to change and soon.

    • Craeft profile image


      4 years ago from Grand Blanc, MI

      This is a great article and hits many key points.

      And it's pretty sad that employers take advantage of the current employment situation. I keep seeing graphics design jobs available but they want you (and I'm not exaggerating) to be a graphics designer, web designer, web developer, programmer, and network engineer... and they want to pay you $9 an hour to do it. Technically, those are 5 different degrees/certs.

      The statement "Money can't buy you happiness" really bothers me because it usually comes from people who have money or are secure in their life. My internal response when someone says that is, "Ok... then you give me money. You won't be any less happy and I'll be able to pay my phone bill."

      That's kinda where I am at right now, phone is about to get turned off and it's the contact point for all of the jobs for which I've applied.

      To touch on the portion where you mentioned government assistance, I am appalled at the system. I am on EBT Food Stamps. I get more than enough for me. I know how to juggle what to buy and whatnot. What bothers me, though, is that sometimes it isn't the recipient abusing the system... it's the system abusing the system.

      When I lost my job, I had to contact them to let them know of a change in my situation. I specifically said, "I do not want nor need more food stamps. I need help with bills." -- They gave me over $100 a month more in foodstamps. Even though (in fact because) I have zero income, I am not eligible for financial assistance. That just seems messed up to me.

      Sorry for the mini-rant.

      Money might not buy happiness as the saying says... but it sure as hell can buy food, health, security, and entertainment.

    • profile image

      Lori Thornhill 

      4 years ago

      You make some very good points. Good article!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Excellent article. You make some very valid points with references and stats to support them. Well written.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Very good!


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