Happiness and Money

Happiness can be elusive. Surveys from way back have shown that Americans in all economic levels thought they’d be happy if they had just 10% more. But recent research 1 is even more striking: When Harvard Business School asked more than 4,000 millionaires how much money it would take to be perfectly happy, 25% said they’d need 500% more money, and 27% said they’d need a 1,000% increase in wealth! Less than 13% said they could achieve perfect happiness with the amount of money they already had.

Now that’s just plain depressing.

But when we don’t start by focusing on money, people identify different things as major factors in happiness. 2 An 80-year-long study of adult development by Harvard University named not only close relationships with family and friends, and good health as important for happiness (what we’d expect), but also frequent daily events that trigger happiness. And the frequency of positive interactions is more important than the intensity of them.

Even more significant, generosity with money makes a big difference in happiness. Research since 2015 shows that money can “buy” happiness – if you spend it on activities and causes that are important to you, or you spend money helping others, especially those who are close to you.

So when we start with money for itself, we head off in the wrong direction. But when we start with qualities of good living, happiness comes and use money for generosity, happiness isn’t so elusive after all.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – “The Insane Amount Millionaires Say They Need to Be Happy,” MONEY magazine, March 2018, p. 22.

2 – “The science of happiness,” THE WEEK magazine, January 12, 2-18, p. 16.