Can money equal happiness?

MarkthesparkStarred Page By Markthespark, 15th Apr 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

An opinion piece that looks at the correlation between money/wealth and happiness, that says that money is not equal to happiness.

Wealth and happiness

Can money = happiness? A colleague of mine once opined: “it’s better to be rich than to be miserable and poor.” I suppose from a practical standpoint his statement makes sense. From a moral outlook however, those kinds of utterances would be frowned upon by some people. But can money truly make anybody happy?

In my humble opinion – no it cannot. It’s good to be and feel comfortable, but wealth is never a guarantee of happiness. It can never be. How many times don’t we read or hear of people who are very wealthy, getting themselves into some kind of fix? And many of us sing an almighty refrain as we observe their downfall with comments like: “And look how rich they are!”

The wealthy in the public eye

A case in point is Shrien Dewani of the United Kingdom, who was found not guilty of plotting the murder of his wife, Anni, while on honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa five years ago. Shrien, who is from a wealthy background, was extradited to SA to face trial towards the end of last year, four years after Anni’s death, where he was acquitted. In the lead up to the trial, Shrien came under intense scrutiny from members of the public, police and the courts as he allegedly fought bouts of depression and managed to delay his extradition from the UK to SA. Eventually after SA authorities were granted an extradition order, Shrien was found not guilty of murder by the SA courts in December last year, but as reports suggest, his problems are far from over as Anni’s family reportedly might sue over their daughter’s death.

Lotto winner's battle

A report in the WeekendPost a publication in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, gives details of how the wealthy lifestyle of one Lyall Crofton came to an unfortunate end when he was found dead at his apartment in KwaZulu-Natal province recently. Crofton was found floating in his pool by a family member. Efforts to revive him failed. The news report explained how Crofton had won a large sum of money in a UK lottery and indulged in a high-life lifestyle of flashy cars, flashy apartments and all the trappings that go with the super-rich. Now the family were busy planning his funeral. He was only 37. A life taken away so early, despite all the instant riches he had acquired.

Will winning lottery make you happy

WWW.FORBES.COM asks the question would winning the$ 500 powerball lottery make you happy? It says anectodal research shows that despite initial joy happiness will not be guaranteed. Though there are many whose lives change after winning a lottery, there are many more whose lives are destroyed as a result says says the website article ( According to the website, “the study found that the overall happiness levels of lottery winners spiked when they won, but returned to pre-winning levels after just a few months. In terms of overall happiness, the lottery winners were not significantly happier than the non-winners. The study showed that most people have a set level of happiness and that even after life-changing events, people tend to return to that set point”.

So why would lottery winners go bankrupt? If you are from a social background, where working hard to eke out an existence is the rule, and not being used to a life of wealth, winning a $500 million lottery for example, would be too overwhelming to contemplate. It would be difficult to assume self-control, and the sheer magnitude of a huge lottery win and how to negotiate new-found riches would be a conundrum in itself. This scenario could of course send anyone on the path of depression. Then of course assuming they find out, how does a lottery winner deal with the hangers-on? The local Bridge society who might want some funding, your kid’s soccer club, your former school, your church – and of course, not to mention family who will be the envy of your new-found wealthy status. And spreading your good fortune around, if you should have a conscience, comes with its own pressures.

Of course it doesn’t happen to everyone as the study shows. In Florida one percent of people who win 150-000 dollars or less on the lottery are bankrupt in a year. Of course, many know how to handle the money, but there are still those who fail.

Philanthropy and corporate responsibility

Wikipedia says, between 2013 and 2014 the wealth of Microsoft founder Bill Gates increased by $15 billion, or around $1.5 billion more than the entire GDP of Iceland in 2014. And bet that would be even way way more than the GDP of some countries in Africa. But Gates, despite his huge wealth is helping many disadvantaged communities around the world through his Bill Gates Foundation. Helping others in need is a philosophy that most businesses today align themselves to. In South Africa we call it “corporate responsibility”. However, individuals or communities before they receive any assistance have to help themselves first before the big boys come in to help with finance and mentoring.

The underlying point is that if you help people solve problems they will soon tell others and help your business grow. So ultimately, this philanthropic initiative – or corporate responsibility - is in place only because it is a win-win situation for everybody. It also important though to have a conscience to build a better society.

Fame and fortune no guarantee

Another aspect is accepting the pressures that come with being wealthy. Of course many people accumulate wealth over a period of time. They learn to deal with their acquired wealth after years of trials and tribulations. Experience is the greatest teacher as they say. They invest money wisely, which gives rise to generational wealth, where the wealth is kept in families. Some of these super-rich, who inherit from past generations would not have to work another day. Then there are those, besides the Lotto winners, who build up wealth virtually overnight, due to circumstances e.g .an inheritance or after securing a big business deal at the first attempt. Sometimes the overnight rags to riches types have difficulty in handling such wealth because they don’t have any knowledge or experience, and are bankrupt before they know it. They land up worse off than ever before.
Then there are the world-famous musicians like Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, the movie stars and authors, who have built up considerable wealth. Two famous musicians/singers come to mind. One is Jackson and the other, Whitney Houston. Seemingly bogged down by their fame and fortune, their lives were punctuated by a series of controversies, despite the money they had earned from million-dollar record deals. Tragically, Houston was found dead in a bath in Beverly Hills in 2012. She sold 200 million records worldwide, and was one of the biggest-selling musicians ever.

The King of Pop – Michael Jackson’s - Thriller was the biggest selling pop album ever and he went on to add even more accolades to his list of achievements. He is only one of a few artists to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame twice. Jackson died in 2009 in controversial circumstances.

Famous actor Robin Williams well-known for all his comic roles, committed suicide at his California home in August last year. He was 63. His fans the world were shocked by his sudden death, as of course were his family. It was revealed after his death that Williams had been suffering from severe depression. Wikipedia says quoting His wife, Susan Schneider, said: "I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken." Here was a man – a comedian of note – thought to have been on top of his game in the acting world. The mere outpouring of grief and shock enough evidence that a famous, well-respected and fairly well-off Williams was thought to be – at least as far as his fans were concerned – doing more than fine. But unfortunately things are not always what they seem to be at least on the surface – despite perceived wealth and success.

Income can only do so much

Professor Claire Wallace of the sociology department at Univ of Aberdeen, in an article that appeared in the Conversation and says: “Economists are rethinking the link between happiness and GDP. They question facile assumptions about economic growth alone being good for us. What’s the good of being better off if it doesn’t make people happier?”.

“There has also been a vast literature in psychology looking at individual wellbeing and its determinants. If money doesn’t make us happy, what does? Happiness is a fleeting and ephemeral emotion that is difficult to capture in statistical analysis. But what sort of society allows people to live well? The focus on economy tends to look at money – is it enough? In looking at socio-economic security for example, we have found that a person’s income plays only a part in explaining life satisfaction”, she says.

Money can't fill the vacuum where happiness should be

Of course we can’t paint everyone with the same brush; there are many people who handle wealth – and fame - responsibly and we have to be thankful as they provide jobs to many people out there. The point is that there is enough evidence to suggest that wealth/money does not = happiness.

It’s more than just saying that people who end up bankrupt after a long period of wealth are in dire straits because they mismanaged their money. No, happiness is something of the heart, and an emotional quality that lies deep within. You can of course be happy despite your wealth, or despite having want for more. But this is not an easy goal to attain for all humankind – even the wealthy! There is enough proof to suggest that if you are not happy inside, nothing of a material nature can fill up the lack of happiness. Money can only do so much to fill that vacuum.


Happiness, Inheritance, Money, Rich, Tycoon, Wealth

Meet the author

author avatar Markthespark
I am a 49 year old journalist, and have been involved in the profession for 19 years. I am currently a newspaper sub-editor at a newspaper group in Port Elizabeth on the east coast of South Africa. .

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author avatar pohtiongho
16th Apr 2015 (#)

Money is definitely not going to buy you any happiness. However, it is still useful because it can help to reduce some suffering, fear and illness. A person will suffer more pain if he doesn't have any money to pay for medical treatments!

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
16th Apr 2015 (#)

Thought provoking, thanks Markthespark. I was thinking of an anecdote - one person was given a choice of two boons; happiness without wealth or wealth without happiness. He selected the latter with a hope that wealth will be a cure all despite the boon being potent!

I take a view that one needs everything is moderation and life should be fulfilling without getting obsessed with wealth. I have found more happiness in those who are contented and I am one of them. The proof of the pudding is in its eating - I spend hours everyday at Wikinut! siva

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author avatar Shamarie
16th Apr 2015 (#)

Excellent post, Markthespark! Congrats on the star page! Well deserved!!!

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
16th Apr 2015 (#)

Happiness is inside of us. There is nothing in this world that can make us happy if peace does not dwell within us. Excellent article and congratulations on the star.

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author avatar Markthespark
16th Apr 2015 (#)

Thanks Nancy, good point you make and to you Shamarie .. we are all on a never-ending search for happiness

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author avatar Lerynne West
25th Feb 2019 (#)

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I told my sister, Get that ticket, get in your truck and get up here now — and drive slow.

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