Does Money Matter for Our Happiness?

As COVID-19 threatens our health (and wealth), does money matter?

Posted Mar 08, 2020

Over the past weeks, the threat of a coronavirus global pandemic has caused a flurry of closed schools, cancelled sporting events and panic buying resulting in Costco’s shelves being stripped of paper products, water and comfort food.

As the country and the world ride waves of worry about the spread of the new pathogen COVID-19, we watch horrified as the global markets take us on a wild roller coaster ride. We fear the impact of supply chain disruption. We watch helpless as our nest eggs shrink. We question whether we might be headed for a global economic collapse.  

 CBS News
How will COVID-19 alter our future and our happiness
Source: CBS News

As pundits on the topic of happiness, we both have recently been inundated with questions about the correlation between money and happiness. Does money make us happier? Are those with more money happier than those with less? Does a boost in income also boost our happiness quotient?

Here’s what we know.

While happiness and wealth may often co-exist, it is well documented that money does not necessarily lead to happiness. While a more robust bank account may alleviate stress, it is not the source of joy. As a case in point, there is much happiness that abounds amongst people in the slums of Calcutta and the shanty towns of Joberg.

Conventional wisdom will lead you to believe that winning the lottery will result in unmitigated happiness, but a study of lottery winners conducted in 1978 found that lottery winners reported that their windfall actually decreased enjoyment of life. It’s true. Most lottery winners were no happier in the long term than before they hit the jackpot.

There are two notable exceptions. First, those lottery winners who contributed to charitable causes were far happier than those winners who did not give some of their money away to benefit others. Second, those winners who used their newfound windfall to invest in meaningful experiences rather than using it to buy more stuff were happier in the long run.

Let’s look at the flip side of winning the lottery.

Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as Superman, had a horseback riding accident resulting in a devastating spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic. His every breath was dependent on a respirator. Despite this tragedy, Reeve established a foundation to help others with similar injuries. He might have despaired at his circumstances, but he chose not to.

In fact, as he so eloquently said, “I’m not living the life I thought I would lead, but it does have meaning, purpose. There is love… there is joy… there is laughter.”

There is no better calculator for a happy life than deathbed reflections. We have learned from our understanding of the experiences of those in hospice that there are five things people on their deathbeds most regret.

Do you think they stress over their investments? Do they say, “I should have bought a Tesla?” A New Yorker cartoon has some fun with this thought. It portrays a man on his death bed saying, “I should have bought more stuff.”

Rather those on their deathbed say,

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings more often and say, “I love you.”
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had allowed myself to be happier.

However you choose to live your life, regardless of your financial prosperity, live it in a way so that you do not have the same regrets as those expressed in hospice. Rather, allow your life’s purpose to direct your heart and to lead your actions.

Remember, true wealth is what fortunes cannot forge and death cannot diminish.