Money Can Buy Happiness

A salary alone isn’t going to make you happy, but happiness almost always requires some kind of financial stability.

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photo courtesy of Zac Freeland

Taking income into consideration when planning your future doesn’t immediately make you greedy.

Kristen Kinzler, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Most of us have spent our teenage years planning for the future. We’ve explored our interests, researched what kind of schools we want to attend, and some of us have picked the careers we want to pursue in the future.

Much of this planning has been assisted by our teachers, counselors, and family members– all people who care about us and want us to be happy. They’ve taught us that we should always chase our dreams and find a way to do what we love.

The things most of those mentors failed to discuss with us, however, were income and financial security.

I know, it probably sounds shallow. We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness. Besides, how much money you make doesn’t matter if you’re doing what you love. 

Except, to some extent, it does.

A study conducted by Princeton University found that a person’s overall contentment with their life increases as their salary gets closer to $75,000 a year. After a person’s salary hits that benchmark, income rarely has an impact on their general happiness. Considering that the median household income in the United States is about $60,000, that number is significant.

The researchers hypothesized that there was a leveling off of happiness because, at that $75,000 mark, a person has the financial resources to accommodate their needs. They do not have to worry about buying groceries or paying bills, which makes them a lot less likely to be stressed.

Money obviously cannot replace the important things in life, such as family, meaningful relationships, and a sense of purpose. But it is also hard to be happy when you have to worry about putting food on the table, paying the mortgage, and providing for the people you love most.

In fact, stress that is associated with poverty can have negative effects on an individual’s health. Being in a constant state of stress or anxiety can physically wear on the body over time and can even impact the nervous system and the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis.

Additionally, children who are raised in households below the federal poverty line, which is $26,500 for a family of four in the United States, have, on average, a smaller surface area of outer brain cells and a smaller hippocampus compared to children who grew up in more affluent environments. The portion of brain cells impacts language and impulse control, and the hippocampus affects memory.

Beyond the physical impacts of poverty, worrying about money can take an emotional toll. People who are concerned about their finances are more likely to have marital problems, experience depression, and misuse alcohol.

This is especially problematic because low-income families traditionally have limited access to mental health resources. This could make it harder for them to overcome these emotional aspects, which just makes being happy even more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle.

Earning less money can also make other challenges in life seem more overwhelming. For example, a study found that about half of recently divorced people who made less than $1,000 a month reported feeling sad or stressed, while only 24% of recently divorced people who made more than $3,000 a month reported feeling similar.

So, while it doesn’t guarantee happiness, money certainly is a factor in a healthy lifestyle. It’s only logical that it should be considered when a person is thinking about what they want their daily life to be like.”

So, while it doesn’t guarantee happiness, money certainly is a factor in a healthy lifestyle. It’s only logical that it should be considered when a person is thinking about what they want their daily life to be like. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been mindful about what the average income is for whatever career I’ve wanted to pursue, and it’s guided my future plans. Right now, I have two academic interests that I enjoy equally, and I plan on studying the one that will give me a more comfortable lifestyle. 

I used to be ashamed to admit that. It feels dirty, like I’m throwing away my chance to do something I love because I want more money. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not like I’m abandoning what I enjoy doing in order to become a millionaire.

All I really want is to not have to worry about my finances. I want to be able to take vacations and go out to eat and have that kind of economic freedom. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night concerned about the bills stacking up. There is nothing wrong with that.

Your sense of fulfillment isn’t going to depend on whether you have a house with two bedrooms or twelve, but, unfortunately, it can be affected by your income. Pretending otherwise is delusional.

To be clear, I am not saying that people should not follow their dreams or pursue the careers they love. It is undeniably important to enjoy the job you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing. However, when you’re making a lifelong decision, you should consider all the factors.

I’m also not advocating the notion that, without enough money, a human being can be essentially barred from living a fulfilling life. But in the absence of better healthcare and mental health resources, higher wages, and more social programs that support people of all incomes, poverty can be crushing. 

Not everyone is going to be able to reach the $75,000 benchmark for happiness that the Princeton study established, but we are capable of enacting effective change. The most recent coronavirus relief package, for instance, lifted millions of children above the poverty line. That’s a step in the right direction.

Considering the economic impact of the future you’re planning is nothing more than a personal choice. But don’t let anyone tell you that thinking about money makes you greedy or vain. It’s your life, and planning for a financially stable future is perfectly valid.