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Yes, money can buy happiness—here's why

By NICK GARCIA Published Apr 24, 2022 4:44 pm Updated Apr 26, 2022 12:42 pm

Just my two cents: Money can buy happiness.

Of course, this isn’t to say a blissful life is all about making it rain and splurging on the most garish of items. Neither does it suggest that those who are in the working and lower classes can never crack a smile and find joy in the simplest of things.

But what’s happiness, anyway? While subjective and unquantifiable, it’s generally seen as a positive state of well-being and fulfillment in getting one’s needs and wants.

In psychology, there’s the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with the basic idea that human needs have five tiers, from the bottom up: physiological (food, clothing, and shelter), safety (employment and security), love and belonging (friendships and intimacy), esteem (reputation and accomplishments), and self-actualization (personal growth and fulfillment).

Other researchers updated the five-stage model to eight: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, then added cognitive (knowledge), aesthetic (beauty), self-actualization, and transcendence (helping others achieve self-actualization) needs.

Those down the hierarchy must first be satisfied before achieving the ones on a higher level.

Meaning and pleasure

According to a study published in the Journal of Psychology in 2013, there are two types of well-being: eudaimonic or meaningful and hedonistic or pleasurable.

While both types constitute happiness, there's a fine line between the two.

Suppose that a person is working even on weekends with overtime just to earn more money than usual, saving up for, say, a house and lot. There’s meaning in what they do and the result will bring them joy, though the road might be bumpy. As for another person who, say, drinks the night away, it might not be exactly fruitful but it could indeed be the embodiment of the happy hour.

Meaning and pleasure, however, can also go hand in hand in inducing happiness, like bonding with the barkada, giving gifts to a special someone, watching a favorite band in a live concert, going on an out-of-town trip, and eating in a go-to restaurant.

Where does money fit in the equation? Such experiences mentioned generally occur when there’s nothing much to worry about acquiring basic needs. People with enough resources already may pursue more meaningful and/or pleasurable activities with much ease.

Half the battle is already won thanks to having “tickets” that allow passage through the gates of happiness. Once they cross the other side, they can start exploring more ways to be in the seventh heaven other than paying for another ticket.

In my own experience, I've never had my own pair of shoes during college. I lived with hand-me-downs or those that my parents and relatives bought for me, though they eventually wore out. When I landed my first job as a television writer in 2019, though I'm a minimum wage earner, I was able to save up for a pair of a popular German sneakers brand, as well as a renowned British leather boots brand. I also got hold of boat shoes made in Marikina—the "Shoe Capital of the Philippines."

Ever since I bought them, I've been making sure that they're well maintained (especially the leather boots), even bringing them out of their boxes on the first few days after the purchase just to admire them.

While we're at it, I can already eat in different places without asking anybody for money, much less borrowing one. I was also able to upgrade my wardrobe, filling it with a few new pairs of pants, long-sleeved polos, and floral polos, mostly from e-commerce platforms and ukay-ukay.

In March 2021, I was able to finally buy a Macbook for my work-from-home setup after years of renting in computer shops and crashing into my friends' places to use their PCs (I used to have a notebook computer bought by my father, but it didn't stand the test of time). This newly bought device has since been helpful in writing and research, especially when I joined PhilSTAR L!fe last December. I'm also using it to watch my favorite movies and series.

There's also fulfillment when I was already able to shoulder some payables at home, lend my parents money, give my brother allowance, and treat my loved ones for lunch or dinner from time to time.

I'm happy that I'm able to pursue these things in life with my hard-earned money, and I'm even happier with the experiences I've had beyond earning them blue bills.

Lady Luck may have smiled at me several times, but grace always comes with grit.

Happiness beyond money

In a 2017 story in Time Magazine, it’s said that money can help find happiness, so long as one knows what’s enough and if they can manage their expectations.

Having money isn’t the end-all and be-all of life. There are cases in which an affluent person can still be full of doom and gloom despite having enough resources at their disposal. Even King Midas in Greek mythology became more miserable when everything he touches turns into gold, including his very own daughter.

While happiness is something that can be "bought," albeit initially, one should do away with wearing a green eyeshade and instead start counting the blessings around them and keeping in mind the things that really matter.

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted in December 2021 and released before Valentine’s Day found that 57% of 1,440 adult Filipinos would choose health over love (31%) and, apparently, money (11%).

In a 2021 study, Ateneo de Manila University economics professor Rosalina Palanca-Tan said Filipinos can be happy even with incomes below the regional or national minimum wage.

Tan investigated the relationship between income and happiness among a sample of households in the 27 barangays of Koronadal City in South Cotabato.

On a scale of 0 to 10, she found that the average reported happiness is 6.75—above the neutral score of 5. The lowest income group with a monthly income of less than P10,000, which is below the subsistence income level, has a mean happiness score of 6.31. Significant factors that came into play include having enough number of bedrooms, ownership of mobile phones, savings, loans, and membership in cooperatives.

A third-world country like the Philippines, in fact, was named the second happiest country in Southeast Asia and was ranked 60th in 146 nations worldwide by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It even took the lead in exercising self-care among the surveyed nations.

Money only serves as an impetus, a catalyst, an entrance fee of sorts for an individual to be able to get satisfaction—and happiness later on.

Like having a new book or guitar, it doesn’t stop with simply getting one’s hands on them. It all boils down to turning the pages or striking a chord to make the most out of the purchase.

For those who may have relatively easily moved up the ranks of the hierarchy of needs and are approaching the top, perhaps the focus should be on budgeting and prioritizing purchases, fueling one's passion, enriching one's knowledge, allotting time for exercise, ensuring that there's enough rest and sleep, helping those who are in need whether in cash or in kind, and establishing long-lasting interpersonal relationships that are too priceless to be appraised.

Meaning and pleasure would surely be in abundance—and happiness could be at hand.