Guest Post by Timothy McKinney: Can Money Buy You Happiness?

Happy Friday Everyone!  We’re taking a change from guilty pleasures to talk about happiness.  Specifically, that age old question, Can Money Buy You Happiness?  Please welcome the author of The Power of Happiness, Timothy McKinney!

Plus:  He’s offering 3 lucky commenters a chance to win an e-copy of his book!  Leave a comment on today’s post to enter, or double your chances by also leaving a comment on my book review of The Power of Happiness here. All comments must be in by Sunday, September 16th 5pm to win!


Can You REALLY Buy Happiness With Money?

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”

-Helen Gurley Brown

This past month, American cultural icon Helen Gurley Brown passed away after a lifetime of helping people challenge their beliefs. And, her quote about money really captures the age-old question, “Can money buy happiness?”

The answer to this question isn’t as simple as one would think. To illustrate the challenge, let’s look at two people—one with money and one without. To keep as many things constant as possible, let’s imagine that these two people are twin brothers, Bill and Bob. They are, of course, the same age, have the same parents, and grew up in the same environment. They have the same level of health and are both in sales. They’re both married and have two children each. The main difference between the two brothers is that Bill made an investment when he was in college that made him a lot of money. Bob invested the same amount in a different company and didn’t see a return on his investment.

Bill and Bob have a sister, Bonnie. One day, Bonnie comes to her brothers and tells them that her husband has left and taken all of their money. She’s got young children and doesn’t know how she’ll make the rent. She asks her brothers for a small loan. Bob is struggling to pay his own rent and doesn’t have any extra to give his sister. He feels awful, but must tell his sister, “I don’t have the money right now, but why don’t you and the kids come over to dinner this weekend. I can’t give you financial support, but I can give you emotional support.” Bill has plenty of money and is easily able to give his sister the money. “Don’t worry about it, Sis. It’s my gift to you.”

Later that week, Bill and Bob’s mother ends up in the hospital after a fall. She’s broken her hip and needs surgery. Unfortunately, her insurance won’t cover the entire cost of the surgery. Bill says to his mother, “It’s okay, Mom. I can cover the gap. You just worry about getting better.” Bob visits his mom, too. He brings her a huge bouquet of flowers and a copy of her favorite book. He spends the afternoon with his mother in the hospital reading to her.

The next month, during the brothers’ annual “Guys Weekend,” Bill and Bob are sitting on a small boat on a lake doing some fishing. The subject of happiness comes up.  “Bill, are you happy in your life?” asks Bob.

“Yeah, I am. Of course, there are some things I would change…”

“What would you change, Bill? You have all the money you could possibly want. What would make your life better?”

“Well, Bob, I kind of envy you sometimes. Everyone in the family knows that when there is a financial bind, they can come to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love having the ability to solve problems with money. But I envy the personal connection that you seem to have with everyone. It’s almost as if because you don’t have the financial resources I have, you’re forced to give another kind of support. Money is the easiest kind of support there is to give, and sometimes I think it makes me a bit lazy. What about you, Bob? Are you happy?”

“Yes, I’m happy. But, I’d change some things, too. I do wish I had more money. I think I would be happier if I did. It makes me feel awful when I can’t help Bonnie or Mom. I feel like if I just had the money to solve their problems, then I wouldn’t have to feel terrible for other people so much.”

The brothers lapsed into silence for a few moments and contemplated this. Finally, Bill broke the silence.  “I guess it’s like this. Having money makes it easier to do the things that make you happy. It doesn’t MAKE you happy, but it takes away the stresses that can make happiness elusive.”

Bob agreed. “Yeah. I don’t think that one of us is more or less happy than the other, Bill. We each use the resources we have to do the things we can to make others happy. It’s about serving others and giving, whether it’s money or another form of support.”

This story perfectly captures the paradox of money and happiness. You can be happy with money, or you can be miserable with money. You can be happy without money, or you can be miserable with no money. But, there’s no question that having money can at least ameliorate some of the stresses that can make one unhappy. Perhaps, Henry David Thoreau said it best…

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

Timothy McKinney lives in Redondo Beach, California with his wife Cindy and their two children, Heather and Robbie. He went to the University of Southern California, where he received degrees in Business and Psychology. Since 1997, Tim has been a corporate trainer who conducts workshops on subjects related to happiness and workplace effectiveness. He is a passionate vegetarian who enjoys SCUBA Diving in the Kelp Forests of Catalina Island.

12 responses

  1. I think that story illustrated it perfectly. I’ve always thought it was a fallacy when people talked about how those with money were miserable. Money has nothing to do with misery any more than it does with happiness. It all comes down to how you live your life.

    1. Yes, money certainly makes things easier but the story in the post illustrates how we always want what we feel eludes us. And yet sometimes when we get it it’s not the magic answer to our problems. But to learn more you should read Timothy’s book!

  2. Love the analogy! I’ve been on both sides of the issue and agree…if you don’t love yourself and your life as it is, money isn’t going to affect that. When I had no money, life was far more stressful than now. So , in my world it’s money = stress relief, not money = happiness. Great post, Jess and Timothy!

    1. Dito dito dito. Of course when financial concerns are the stressor than we feel frustrated or unhappy. It’s easy to see why they’re so closely linked all the time but less simple to view and understand when we are in the midst of its issues.

  3. Great illustration. I do know people who have a lot of money and are miserable. I also know people who have a lot of money and are happy. I jokingly tell people who don’t think money can buy happiness, to go buy a new Camaro. But in all seriousness, I was already happy before I got mine. 🙂

    1. Thanks Jennette! There’s always multiple sides and everyone in between! But ah…if we all had camaros! 😉

  4. How refreshing to hear a balanced view of this! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but if used properly, it can alleviate certain causes of stress. What I find interesting is that generosity is linked to happiness here. I definitely think that sharing whatever you have with others can lead to feelings of joy. Great post!

    1. Your second remark comes up a lot in the book. Service to and for others does increase happiness but even then you have to be “doing it for the right reasons.” If you only fetch someone a glass of water because you EXPECT it to make you feel good or for them to be grateful then you miss the point. Doing it because you want your guest to remain comfortable and you genuinely wish their happiness then you will find it return.

  5. I tend to believe in a study done recently that found that happiness is related to money, up to a point (about $85,000/yr), then lowers happiness beyond that point. I fall well (and I mean well) below that number, and the tight finances makes being happy difficult sometimes.

    Regardless of this, though, it really is about motivation, and happiness is truly derived by doing the right things for the right reasons, but not specifically about how to do the right things.

    Thanks so much for this post.

    1. That makes a lot of sense. To me, it’s like our classes. You’ve got working class, which can be happy but no doubt has financial concerns, the middle class that fall everywhere in the inbetween but live comfortably, and then the upper class which has endless money but isn’t always as happy as they “should” be with it.

  6. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does help. “It’s about serving others.” How true. That would require unselfishness. It’s about balance and where our focus is. Are we happy from deep within about ourselves. We can then let that happiness shine on others. But let’s be truthful here. Having money can make things easier. Great post Jess! 🙂

    1. Spot on, Karen! Happiness comes from deep within ourselves, and doing things altruistically. But I agree, having money does make things easier. Our society being what it is, it’s hard to live comfortably or have confidence about yourself when you’re dealing with financial crises.

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