Can you buy happiness with money?

Recently, my colleagues and I had a lunch conversation on his latest discovery of an online store that you can buy practically everything. This conversation experienced a change of topic when someone in our group mentioned “You can’t buy everything as you can’t buy happiness.” The person on the other side, however, think that you can indeed buy happiness in getting things that you truly loves and need.

The idea of happiness  – a matter of spending on basic needs

In my opinion, spending money on basic needs does give you happiness when they are fulfilled. Needs are things like shelter, food, clothes and other daily necessity that you require. Therefore, money does make a difference in the happiness index for poorer countries. No doubt that without food and shelter, most likely discomfort and stress can be felt.  This can be easily explained using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as shown below:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs source:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs source:

As illustrated from the picture above, the bottom two levels require some form of monetary transaction. You need to spend money to buy food and a house to meet your safety and psychological needs. However, as you go up to the higher levels, you will realise that monetary involvement start to decline.

At the highest hierarchy – self-actualisation, is what money can’t buy. You just can’t buy creativity off from the shelves and expect yourself to be creative the very next moment (we are not robots with an upgrading of a chip, we can do wonders).  However, some cheeky readers might argue that with money you can get to sign up for courses that equipped with you with these skills. But do bear in mind that once again it doesn’t happen in an instance. It has to be gained through experience, and most importantly, you must be self-driven to acquire that skill that you have signed up for. If not, the money you spend will just go down to drain, and obviously you won’t be a better person in creativity nor problem solving.

So why are we unhappy even though our basic needs are met?

It is all because of our expectations!

First of all, with our basic needs being met, we tend to focus on the other side, which is the wants. Living in a highly connected world, we get to see how others indulge in luxury through advertisements, TV shows and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We begin to get disillusioned  and created a new category of ‘needs’, which instead it should be more of a want.

For example, with smart phone technology proliferated into our lives, every one will desire to own one smart phone. That’s could be one reason Nokia phones’ popularity declines even though they are really phones of good quality.  If everyone in our social circle has an iPhone, for instance, we will think it is reasonable to expect we can own one too. As you see, our expectation are shaped by what others in social circle do and have.

Secondly, with every pay rise and promotion, we tend to chase over the new things that we can  afford. As a result, there will be an endless amount of things you will like to pursue and, therefore, this make the incremental becomes less significant. Is like running on a consumption treadmill, having the urge to change to the latest smartphone, tablet and computer so as to get the same level of satisfaction.

Lastly, will be a sense of financial insecurity. As we get used to owning good stuff and living in comfort, many of us are afraid that we might lose it all.  Anxiety and fear of what if one day we can’t buy as much as we used to be able to. You can say that we are more adapt to steady rises (for e.g. annual increments) than a sudden fall in income.

When enough is enough

In economics, there is a principle called the law of diminishing returns, which defined as the decrease in the marginal (incremental) output of a production process as the amount of a single factor of production is incrementally increased, while the amounts of all other factors of production stay constant.

Ok, let’s ignore the academia type of explanation and look at a real life example. Imagine you are feeling hungry, eating a hamburger will significantly increase your happiness (utility) for that moment.  However, as you have a bite on the second hamburger, you will not feel as satisfied as having the first burger.  The sense of satisfaction will continue to falter as you continue to have your third and fourth burger till you are so bloated that no longer it gives you any satisfaction (if not pain, for excessive eating).

This law is so applicable to our daily life that it explains why upgrading to bigger homes do not necessary equates to ultimate happiness. You can say that everyone has a threshold to our needs. Beyond the threshold, extra money to our pocket makes very little difference in our level of happiness.


After much being said, the point I am trying to make is simple – Having lots of money doesn’t equate to a person happiness. You cannot just buy happiness simply off shelves.

If there is one way that money can translate to happiness (after your threshold of needs is met), I would suggest that you spend on creating an experience.

– By spending on a holiday trip with your family and friends will certainly bring you happiness. The memories and bond forged, fulfil love & belonging level in the Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid. The value of this experience will not decline but may even grow as you reminiscing about the laughters and joy that you had with your family.

-By signing up for a course to enjoy the process of learning. Stimulating brain with new ideas is always fun. Besides, joining new courses you will also get to network with others with the same interest. From your new friends, you will get to know about their lives (that’s provided they are willingly to share with you), and these ‘lessons’ make you understand about life better.

– Getting a good book and read it. Ask yourself, when is the last time you spend time reading for personal interest? It can be a good novel that touch your heart, a self-improvement book to inspire you, a ‘chicken soup’ series to heal your wound?

After all, money is not something we can bring along with us after death, right?

Happiness Can Comes Free

Recently over a friend gathering session, we discussed the topic on happiness. There were few heated arguments on the happiness index of Singaporean, which I will not cover in this post.

Rather, pertaining to pursuing happiness, it just bewildered me that when has it became so complex, that it seemed that you might need a PhD to understand it.

What do you see from this photo? A lonely old man or a floor of happiness?

What do you see from this photo? A lonely old man or a walkway full of happiness?

Your definition of happiness?

What makes you happy?

I guess we are so obsessed over chasing materialistic benefits that the answers I got from people were usually linked to some sorts of monetary stuff such as to own a house, a car, having lots of cash in banks, etc. Some others, on the other hand, are less materialistic. They just wanted emotional benefits, such as getting married, having kids and a group of close friends, etc.

However, if you take a step back and look at these answers, you will realised that they actually depend on something for happiness. The problem here is that what if the thing you depend on for happiness is no longer with you? People around you will come and go, marriage can fail and fortunes you made can be lost in a day.  This kind of happiness is just so fragile.

So you might ask again, so can I find true happiness that last?

In my opinion

In my humble opinion, my answer to happiness is that you will need to just unlock your mind and programmed it to receive happiness in the simplest form! Although you could argue that said is easier than done, but do you still remember during the times when you were still young, how easily you can feel happiness and to let your emotions out? We were easily amused, laughed at the ‘lamest’ joke, entertained by the simplest things in life. How can we possible able to do it when we were just a kid yet as a matured adult we can’t?

It is when you regain the skill of appreciating simple thing in life that happiness comes.

Some suggestions are:

1. Learn to live in present, do not wait for your definition of happiness to happen. No more ‘if’ and ‘unless.’ The keyword is now.  

2. Learn to appreciate the little things you have in life. Taking stock of what you have now and be grateful you have them!

3. Learn to love yourself more. Taking good care of your health and well-being.

4. Learn to choose to see the good and not the bad in all things. Yes, is a matter of choice. Go ahead and choose happiness and you get it.

A simple example

Lately Singapore is experiencing a flower blooming season. This is believe to be triggered by the recent dry spell, resulted in mass flowering on trees including the Angsana plant that you see from the picture at the top of this post.

How can you derive happiness from this? Just take a look at how simple it is for kids to feel happy in the video below:


Sometimes the happiness you can get, comes in the simplest form and best of all, is for free. When we were born, we were welcome to this world with the joy of our parents. Therefore, it should be right to mention that we are born to be happy.

We should always keep in mind that true happiness is not far-fetched goal, and in fact, it all begin with ourselves – our mindset.

Cheers~ 🙂

Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself – Ralph Waldo Emerson