No, Money Cannot Buy Happiness

By Michelle Wang (III), Assistant Editor

Think of the last time you bought a shirt you really wanted. For the next few days, you were excited about the newest addition to your closet and smiled at the thought of the trendy outfits you would experiment with, but how long did that happiness last?

The hedonic treadmill theory suggests that after a surge of happiness in a person’s life, their emotional state eventually returns to a normal baseline. Thus, people will never be satisfied with their current consumption level as there will always be a desire to have even more.

For example, if someone were to win the lottery and become a millionaire overnight, they would probably experience a huge boost of serotonin. After a couple of months, however, one would grow accustomed to their new prosperous lifestyle, and it would become a new normal. Once the initial excitement of having more than one previously had wears off, they will feel gradually less happy.

People following the course of the hedonic treadmill progressively feel more irritated, ungrateful and dissatisfied with their current lifestyle. Because they always seek more, this spirals into the mindset of “nothing will ever be enough.”

Following this mentality, an obsessive cycle surrounding money begins. The more money earned, the stronger the desire for money, which eventually becomes confused with a motivation to do pleasurable things. Humans are naturally susceptible to greed, especially in their pursuit of happiness.

Many misinterpret happiness as something to seek throughout life. Unlike a lost key or missing puzzle piece, it is not an item to be sought after. Since the feeling of happiness is intangible, it is not something that can be obtained, even through financial means.

Making money and being happy are taught as conflicts of interest at a very young age. When dreaming of future career paths, students often mention the exchange of money and happiness. People who believe money is the key to happiness usually try following a stable career path in hopes of earning a high income. They fail to realize that they are, in fact, paying a price for it.

Money cannot buy time. By spending all of one’s time working at a nine-to-five job or studying for a certain degree, people are sacrificing time that could be spent with friends, family and other loved ones. This is not to undermine people’s achievements, but some forget that they only have so much time in life. Even the richest person in the world is passing the same minute as everyone else. It is ultimately up to an individual to decide how to spend this finite resource.

While one mindlessly passes through time trying to increase the digits in their bank account, problems may arise in their life. Lack of attention to personal relationships can lead to consequential drawbacks in contentment.

As Boston Latin School English teacher Mr. Peter Sullivan explains, “Let’s say I make 100,000 dollars a year, and I’m really unhappy. [It] doesn’t make sense that making 200,000 dollars a year, I would suddenly become really happy. […] It must mean the reason I’m unhappy is something else. And by thinking it’s money, I’m neglecting what I could be fixing.”

Happiness is built on perspective and attitude, not materialistic things. It may be able buy comfort, but it does not give new meaning or purpose to life. In fact, society’s hyperfixation on money often leads to the neglect of other valuable and fulfilling parts of life.