Money and Happiness Essay

Relationship between Money and Happiness

Money is generally defined as a medium of exchange that is legally recognizable within a given political territory. In addition, it refers to assets, property, resources, wealth, and riches that are owned by an individual, institution, or a state. Happiness is generally defined as a mental and emotional state of well-being, which is always characterized by positive feelings and reactions (Kesebir et al., 2008). 

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The relationship between money and happiness is both historical and philosophical. “Can money buy happiness?” is a one of the questions people cannot answer correctly. According to Kesebir, et al. (2008) happiness is associated with luck, virtue, pleasure, and feeling of emotional warmth. It is not merely judged by favorable fate of external circumstances but also by state of mind. For instance, Aristotle asserted that “happiness is not out of one’s hands, but is realized for anyone willing to lead life in accordance with the most valued virtues”. During the Hellenistic periods, happiness was viewed as a royal road to the good life. Although such a stand was considered as too extreme and ideal, it was observed that a good life that was void of reason and morality was not achievable (Kesebir et al., 2008).

During the Middle Age, Christian philosophers gave a unique approach in relation to happiness and money. In this period, a virtuous and ethical living was indispensible in realization of a good life. The philosophers argued that virtue and ethics were not sufficient for realizing happiness. Instead, happiness was associated with other spiritual matters, which required the religious and divine intervention. This approach of happiness believed that absolute happiness was only attainable through devoted faith and God’s grace. Besides, this view observed earthly happiness as fallible and albeit, while complete and eternal happiness was associated with the fulfillment of God’s eternal kingdom, which was to be realized in the afterlife (Kesebir et al., 2008).


During the Age of Enlightenment, happiness became more secularized than religious. This was propagated by the Western point of view that argued that pleasure was a means to happiness and a synonym for it. This stand was further promoted by the utilitarian philosophers of the 19th century who argued that happiness was directly equated to utility. In this discourse, it was observed that people pursued surplus wealth as a means to pleasure and happiness as a form of liberation from pain and other oppressive pressures in society (Kesebir, et al., 2008). In the contemporary society, the philosophical views of happiness have been diluted since the concept is more associated with materialism and wealth possession. In this period, the virtuous and perfectionist views of happiness have been widely ignored. Instead, the idea of happiness is associated more with feeling good than being good. 

Understanding Happiness as a State of Well Being

In the discourse of money and happiness, philosophers agree on the fact that defining the concept of happiness is very technical and challenging. However, by all the social science disciplines, happiness is associated to subjective well-being. It refers to the emotional status and feeling of satisfaction that is realized after a personal and cognitive evaluation is conducted by an individual. From this point of view, happiness is very subjective and each individual has his/her own way of judging it. Although self-reports on happiness do not comply with the classical philosophical views, the contemporary philosophers hold to this perception and observe that several indicators are useful in assessing reliability and validity in causes of happiness. Therefore, modern philosophy has been concerned about common indicators of the state of well-being and satisfaction. Such sources of well-being are ascribed to and associated with both material and social issues such as job satisfaction, marriage, family life, and health. These are known to be causes of well-being, if they create a positive impact on an individual’s life, and they can work in contrary, if they are not satisfactory (Kesebir et al., 2008).

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Importance of Money in Enhancing Happiness and Well Being

Various philosophers have made several assertions in relation to money and happiness. According to Aristotle, wealth and money is a very necessary ingredient of happiness. Another philosopher by the name Stoics was opposed to Aristotle’s ideology and stated that material wealth and possessions have not requirements for happiness. To strike a middle ground, Epicureans believed that people should have sufficient money to shelter them from pain and harm. He further commented that money could only offer happiness up to a certain threshold. Frey and Stutzer furthered this argument by asserting that although increase in income contributed significantly to happiness, it only worked best in less developed community and the correlation was lost at certain level of economic development (Kesebir, et al., 2008).

Other Factors that Contribute to Happiness and Well-being

According to Marcel Proust, happiness is strongly associated with health. To justify this fact, Danner Snowdon and Friesen conducted a study on the effect of virus of cold on happiness. In the research, the scholars infected a section of participants with a virus of cold and those who reported high level of happiness were found to be less vulnerable to the common cold (Kesebir, et al., 2008).

Besides, happiness affects personal achievements and it is affected by them. According to Fredrickson, positive emotions, which lead to happiness, are realized when one uses one’s intellectual ability, skills, and resources in a satisfactory manner. As a result of this, feelings of self-meaning, worth, purpose, and fulfillment are predictors of happiness and can also be achieved when a person lives a happy and fulfilling life. Happiness is linked to a higher achievement in professional life. It has been observed that those who graduate from college, secure good jobs, receive a favorable evaluation from their seniors, earn a higher income, and have a sense of job security are likely to be happier (Kesebir, et al., 2008).

Social relationship is another known cause and consequence of happiness. Happiness is known to bring out the best out of people by making them more social, more cooperative, and more ethical. Because of this, those who interact with people positively increase positive effects on social relationships and conduct positive evaluations of others. Such people can easily develop trust towards others, act in more ethical manner, and participate happily in social affairs (Kesebir, et al., 2008).

Moreover, religion has been accredited as a source of happiness. Drawing justification from the medieval Christian philosophies, happiness comes from God and it can be only attained through faith and devotion. For instance, Boethius, a 6th Century philosopher, stated that “if it is true that happiness if the perfect good, then it must reside in the most supreme deity”.  Although Karl Max has been considered one of the most famous critics of religion who viewed religion as the opium of the people, he actually asserted that it was a source of happiness by recommending that people should grow beyond religious illusionary happiness and pursue real happiness. Despite his criticism, researches have proved that religious affiliation, prayer, relationship with a deity and belonging to a religious community bring happiness (Kesebir, et al., 2008).

Richard Easterlin’s and Robert Lane’s Arguments

For many Americans, happiness and money are inseparable. Happiness is simply understood in terms of how much material benefits one has. However, the fact that steady upward economic growth has not increased the level of happiness makes the issue examinable. More money increases individual rather than community happiness. Happiness-income relation is, therefore, positive to individuals but not to society as a whole. Money can, therefore, buy happiness for an individual but not for society. 

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Easterlin’s arguments have been refuted and by critics who have argued that the argument is both erratic and unjustified. Material growth increases a country’s collective well-being. He further asserts that differences in people’s well-being in the country are not significantly related to income. He draws from Gallup’s research, which has concluded that national poverty pervades all aspects of life, ranging from feelings, perceptions, and attitudes, therefore, even the rich cannot be happy in a poor country. In analyzing the well-being of the poor, Lane argues that national wealth increases the well-being of the poor. This is achieved when money is used to reduce particular afflictions of the poor such as starvation and high infant mortality. For this case, therefore, money can buy happiness only for the poor and this happiness is temporary.


Although happiness has been directly associated with money, other factors such as health, faith and social relationships are alternative sources of happiness. Money can cause temporary happiness by elevating the status of the poor up to some level then the happiness seizes. Thus, it can be concluded that happiness is not subject to ownership of money, although such ownership contributes to individual happiness. 


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