Dear Mrs. Riches:
Do you think money buys happiness? I have $10 that says yes, it does. I know I would be happier with a million dollars in my checking account, millions in investments, and a Rolls Royce in the driveway. But I'm just as sure counseling types like to attribute happiness to a lot of other touchy-feely things like good communication and personal insight. Just for kicks, I'll ask: Wouldn't you be happier with more money?
Throwing Down the Gauntlet
Dear Throwing Down the Gauntlet:
I share your interest in this subject, which is why I picked your question. That, and I'm a sucker for a good bet. But in this case, I think we'll have to go halfsies, $5 for you, $5 for me. Why? Because we're both right. There's a relationship between money and happiness, but it's an incredibly small one. Think of all the wealthy celebrities getting divorces, going to rehab, and writing miserable tell-all books in which the theme boils down to one thing: Money (and fame) did not buy them happiness. Similar studies on lottery winners reveal that their happiness levels return to "normal" five years after winning. And the Amish, who have eschewed a lot of the material goods that money could buy, are some of the sunniest people around, according to measures of life satisfaction.
But lest a little informal pop culture survey fail to satisfy you, I can assure you there's tons of academic research out there that suggests that wealth matters only to a point. For folks at the bottom of the economic ladder, money has the most significant impact on happiness since it improves their ability to meet basic needs. Folks who are in higher income levels seem to get somewhat inured to the positive effects of more money. It seems we humans can get used to (and bored by) anything, even a Rolls Royce.
Still, making more money is nice. Indeed, richer folks are more satisfied with their lives than very poor ones. The same researchers are all over the map about why -- could it be that happier people are more successful and therefore make more money? There seems to be evidence supporting this theory.
But there's also evidence that sex trumps even money in the happiness quotient, so investing in a good, solid, romantic relationship -- yes, with good communication and personal insight -- might give you more bang than a buck.
For more advice from Mrs. Riches, check out the following articles:
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There's also plenty of evidence that giving makes people happy. Check out our five reader-nominated Foolanthropy charities. There are only three days left in this season's campaign.
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor a.k.a. "Mrs. Riches." Her happiness quotient grew exponentially when she married Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter.