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Can Money Really Buy Happiness?

By Jack Redman - February 2023

Throughout a majority of people’s lives It is almost certain that at one stage or another, they have inevitably asked themselves the age old question: ‘does money really buy happiness?’. This is becoming an increasingly prevalent question, especially in light of recent inflation and the cost of living crisis, with people now more than ever needing as much income as they can get their hands on. Though friends or family members may insist that ‘money can’t buy happiness’ and that it is a ‘temporary fix to’ a person’s problems, interestingly however, some more recent studies actually go against this idea, suggesting that increased income may actually correlate to overall increased levels of happiness.

Maybe money can buy happiness after all

In a recent study conducted by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) researchers at PNAS found that money can indeed buy happiness, or eat leas, certainly in the short term.

The experiment itself consisted of giving 200 participants a one-time lump sum payment of $10,000, and the payments were made via PayPal in partnership with the TED organization. They were then asked to spend the full amount within 3 months whilst recording their happiness levels each month. The data was then compared with a control group of an additional 100 people who were not given the $10,000. The researchers were able to measure participant levels of happiness in both groups via a scale ranging from either 1-5 or 1-7 which would ask participants to rank both positive and negative feelings they may have had at the time, on this scale.

The main over-arching finding was that after 3 months had elapsed the participants who were given the money reported overall higher feelings of joy and happiness than the control group that weren’t given the $10,000 and once again after 6 months had elapsed (meaning the participants $10,00 was spent 3 months prior) the levels of happiness in those given the money were still significantly higher overall compared to the control group.

This is an incredibly interesting and potentially polarising research study, as despite the generally accepted perception that happiness doesn’t come from monetary or material gain but rather life fulfilment, family and friends, etc the research discussed so far essentially proves this to be false. However, it is not all doom and gloom, and no, you don’t need to start scrambling to get more money in order to be able to smile. There is thankfully other further research going in the opposite direction, saying that actually no, money cannot be converted into happiness regardless of how much cash a person might have in their wallet.

This may actually not be the case

In an article published by the BBC science focus, a neuroscientist (brain doctor) goes on to explain that though there may be an initial short term increase observed by increasing income, there will be an inevitable stagnation as with all things. This applies to all forms of satisfaction, so not only from income but all things even as simple as shelter or food still grind down to biological responses from the human body.

This is why when we eat we may enjoy the meal but ultimately will be satisfied once we are full, and continuing to eat will bring diminishing returns on chemical satisfaction in the brain Additionally, the neuroscientist also makes the link that the reason people may associate money with happiness is because of what the money can get them, like a house or a car, so again this points towards the idea that there is no significant difference between the feelings brought from materialistic things, and more abstract ideas such as family and fulfilment, as the objective truth is that they are still at the mercy of the chemical processes in the human body.

In conclusion recent research can’t seem to agree on an overall conclusion to the perpetually asked question: ‘can money really buy happiness’ as the views or different parties are ever conflicting, however it could be fair to say that in the short term there may be a quick burst of increased joy and satisfaction as previously stated in both studies. So, can money buy happiness? The answer seems to be yes and no depending on context.

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