The Truth About Money and Happiness

Americans are living more luxuriously than ever before, so why aren't we happier? Here's how to break out of the materialism cycle for better wellbeing.

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If you are too focused on being rich, I have good news: you can rise above materialism! The following strategies will help free you from this fruitless and self-defeating ideal.

  1. Complete five sentences that start with, “I’m glad I’m not ________.”6 This will help you feel grateful for the many good things in your life. No matter how bad you think things are, someone else probably has it worse—and they may be as happy or even happier than you!
  2. Focus on developing and maintaining close, meaningful relationships. One study found that this was more closely related to being happy than material wealth7. Strong, loving ties with friends and family will prove far more valuable to you than a big bank account.
  3. Remember that time, not money, is the most precious resource in your life8. Many people make the huge mistake of working too many hours just to make more money. Are you willing to put a price tag on even one hour of your life? Work enough to meet your basic needs and enjoy the rest of your day knowing that you chose time over cash.

As Americans, we are socially conditioned to value material wealth above all other things. Although it might take considerable effort, reevaluate the way you think about being rich. In time, as you gratefully focus on your loving relationships and the precious nature of life, you will see money as it is: a means to an end, but not a means to happiness.

RESEARCH: You Can Buy Happiness, Depending On What You Buy

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1Pryor, J. H., Hurtado, S., Saenz, V. B., Lindholm, J. A., Korn, W. S., & Mahoney, K. M. (2006). The American Freshman – National Norms for Fall 2005. 2Diener, E., Horwitz, J., & Emmons, R. A. (1985). Happiness of the very wealthy. Social Indicators Research, 16, 263-274. 3Crawford Solberg, E., Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Lucas, R. E., & Oishi, S. (2002). Wanting, having, and satisfaction: Examining the role of desire discrepancies in satisfaction with income. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 725-734. 4Nickerson, C., Schwarz, N., Diener, E., & Kahneman, D. (2003). Zeroing on the dark side of the American dream: A closer look at the negative consequences of the goal for financial success. Psychological Science, 14, 531-536. 5Lyubomirsky, S. (2011). Hedonic adaptation to positive and negative experiences (pp. 200-224). In S. Folkman (Ed.), Oxford handbook of stress, health, and coping. New York: Oxford University Press. 6Crocker, J., & Gallo, L. (1985, August). The self-enhancing effect of downward comparison: Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA. 7Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 81-84. 8Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). If we are so rich, why aren’t we happy? American Psychologist, 54, 821-827.

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