We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness. But is there some sort of relationship between money and happiness? And if so, what does that look like?
Clearly it takes money to meet our most basic needs like food and shelter. When those basic needs are on the line, it’s not surprising that this could be a potential trigger for mental illness. According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, people with problem financial debt are twice as likely to experience depression than people not experiencing financial difficulties. Problem debt is also a risk factor for suicide.
Mental illness, particularly more chronic illness that affects the ability to work, can have a significant detrimental effect on finances. Income may be erratic, and qualifying for disability can be a difficult and drawn out process. Paying for medications and health services can be a huge drain. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute says that a quarter of British adults experiencing mental health problems also report problem debt.
I think at the low end of the income spectrum, it’s not about money increasing happiness; instead, it come down to having enough money for a sense of security rather than the constant stress of being uncertain about meeting those basic needs. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, having sufficient income security to meet physiological needs is essential, and being able to meet safety needs is also extremely important. That being said, money alone is not necessarily enough to ensure those basic needs are met.
What happens at the higher end of the income scale? A study published in the journal Nature in 2018 concluded that globally a yearly income of $95,000 was on average the point at which life evaluation in relation to income topped out, and the satiation point was $60,000 to $75,000 per year for emotional well-being. Income above those levels was not associated with any further improvements. The exact amounts varied from region to region; in North America, $105,000 was optimal for life satisfaction.
I don’t believe that there’s a direct relationship between money and happiness, and while figures like these can give some indication of where money stops having a positive influence, someone’s income alone certainly can’t predict their level of happiness. Once the basic needs are met, I think our attitude towards money and the way we choose to use it can grease the wheels a bit on the journey towards happiness.
We live in a world with a strong consumer culture, and I have strong doubts about whether buying stuff can help to contribute towards happiness. Yet I can see how people might turn to consumerism for a quick hit of temporary happiness to try to compensate for a lack of happiness at a deeper level.
One thing that money can potentially do is open doors for amazing experiences Whether it’s travelling the world or putting your kid in the ski camp they’re super excited about, money can facilitate happiness by allowing us to do things we wouldn’t be able to do if we were stressed about meeting the basics. Of course this isn’t the only way to be happy, and there are many wonderful things to do that cost nothing at all, but in this sense money can open up possibilities.
So, to answer my question in the title, can money facilitate happiness? Well, I chose that wording specifically because I would give a qualified yes, I think that in some cases money can facilitate (but not directly lead to or produce) happiness when the right mindset is already in place. What are your thoughts?
Originally published at mentalhealthathome.org on April 2, 2019.