The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 26th

Column: Money doesn't buy happiness

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DTH Photo Illustration.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness.” 

The age-old adage always seems to be a controversial saying, and depending on your financial situation, you may agree or disagree with it. 

It’s undeniable that being wealthy allows you to partake in more opportunities and purchase more things. At the same time, even as we all strive for material wealth, we need to remind ourselves money isn’t everything.

College students can resonate with this message, especially since we are constantly on the lookout for new internships or jobs with high earning potentials. It can be easy to get lost in the quest for good careers or for high salaries — but it shouldn’t have to be one or the other. 

For some, it may be material wealth, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For a lot of us, however, I bet we would say our family, friends, romantic relationships, helping others or being shown admiration are the things that make us happy. 

Money can’t purchase the genuine love of your partner or the friendship of your pals. It also can’t purchase the good feelings associated with physically helping and serving those in need and seeing the smiles that your actions bring to those less fortunate.

Here are some reminders that money doesn’t correlate with happiness.

Happiness comes from doing the things we love, not what we buy. 

Happiness is a state of mind, not a physical object. You could be materially lacking, but still be satisfied with your life through the relationships you have or the things that you’re doing. While it’s true that being wealthy can make life easier and gives you access to more objects and activities than you wouldn't otherwise have, money can’t buy you a happy relationship with your friends or family. 

As an example, in AMC’s "Breaking Bad," the main character Walter White gains everything — money, power and respect — yet he also loses everything. His family hated and disowned him, his partner betrayed him and all the money in the world couldn’t cure his cancer. Similarly, as college students, money allows us to get dinner with friends on Franklin Street or tickets to games, but it can’t ensure a happy relationship with the people we love most.

At the end of the day, the relationships we have with others and ourselves will matter more. 

Another common adage is “it doesn't matter where you are, but who you're with.” 

While this is more associated with romantic relationships, it is still applicable in this instance because even if you can’t afford to go on expensive vacations or purchase fancy things, you can still be happy by hanging out with your friends in your hometown or by spending time with your family. Likewise, being content with one’s life isn’t something money can guarantee.

Stephen Goldbart, co-founder of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, explains that becoming suddenly wealthy can become a painful psychological experience for some people, and that it’s easy to find yourself in an identity crisis while also dealing with the resulting loneliness and frustration.

Just as money is temporary, the happiness it brings is also temporary. 

While it might be nice to be able to buy anything you want at any time, even the best cars and clothing will eventually wear down with time. Our material wealth will be useless when we all eventually die, but the memories and experiences you make with your family and friends will last a lifetime. 

For example, when you look back on your early teenage years, you’ll probably remember the first date you went on, the times you got in trouble at school with your friends or other things you did with your friends and family, rather than your first paycheck. 

It’ll never be “enough.” 

Even if people do obtain more wealth, many will always want more. A study by Michael Norton, a professor at the Harvard Business School, suggests that the instinct to compare ourselves to how others are doing doesn’t end even if we obtain an obscene amount of wealth, and the rhetorical question, “Am I doing better than before?” only drives the desire of people — even those who are rich — to want more. Therefore, it can become a vicious cycle where you’ll always be obsessed with obtaining more wealth, which means you’ll never be truly content or happy with what you have.

While having a lot of money can resolve a lot of your issues and provides many opportunities and experiences, I also want to remind people — particularly students — that their pursuit of happiness isn’t the same thing as their pursuit of wealth.


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