Money Can Buy Happiness

Tyler Durden's picture


The oft-cited idiom that "money can't buy you happiness" - except in Phat Phong from what we hear - is summarily discussed by Michael Norton in this TED Talk as he notes that if you think that money cannot buy happiness then you are not spending it right. His point is (and his delivery is comedic yet clarifying) that money makes you anti-social or selfish (rather than happy) as we will tend to spend that money on ourselves (or the wrong things - a new Veyron perhaps?). But via experimentation (among people from Vancouver to Uganda) he discovered that spending money in a pro-social way will make you happy... So money can buy you happiness as long as you give it away once you have it - a noteworthy caveat - especially as Norton notes that the size of spending does not matter - as long as it focused towards someone else (and not, as he notes, in a dinner for your girlfriend with hopes of benefits later). In almost every country in the world, people who give money to charity are happier than people who do not give money to charity and interestingly spending-on-other-people made teams or people (sports or sales) more successful - of course, we assume taxation does not count as spending on other people.


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Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:27 | 2386054 mkanterm
mkanterm's picture

In the words of Daniel Tosh, "money can buy you a wave runner. And have you ever seen somebody frown on a wave runner?"

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:31 | 2386062 Ag1761
Ag1761's picture

Money buys me happiness when I exchange it for Phyzz

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:41 | 2386101 ihedgemyhedges
ihedgemyhedges's picture

Were I not married, I would exchange money for Phuzz, if you know what I mean.....................because once you're married, your money is exchanged for whatever she wants it to be exchanged for.............and phuzz becomes merely a result of how much exchanging she can do....

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:18 | 2386261 Nobody For President
Nobody For President's picture

Maybe you could buy a divorce that would make you happy...

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:34 | 2386299 The Big Ching-aso
The Big Ching-aso's picture



I'm not seeing many happy poor people lately.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:07 | 2386430 AldousHuxley
AldousHuxley's picture

And have you ever seen somebody frown on a wave runner?"


Yes, this guy after he nearly drowned trying to ride it into a cargo van.



money as security and control is good = you control your own life

money as buying shit you don't need = short term fun, but long term less security and control = you are owned


It is not how much money you have but how much you have relative to others...your rank.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:04 | 2386331 SemperFord
SemperFord's picture

Divorced, worked for me :D

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:34 | 2386332 ihedgemyhedges
ihedgemyhedges's picture

Good point, except I would lose half of the assets that I would later be exchanging for phuzz and then paying alimony monthly not to get the phuzz that I get on rare occasion.  It's quite a conundrum.......

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:03 | 2386422 SemperFord
SemperFord's picture

Well, there is a reason divorces are expensive...because they are worth it!

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:08 | 2386435 ihedgemyhedges
ihedgemyhedges's picture

I'll give you the +1 on that because it sounds like you are now getting laid a lot...................

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 18:08 | 2386654 SemperFord
SemperFord's picture

LMAO!!! You are quite receptive because that is very true!!! You should change your name to Nostradamus or something! plus one for you!

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:27 | 2386055 vegas
vegas's picture

The only thing money can't buy is poverty.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:31 | 2386067 kindape
kindape's picture

we didn't evolve to 'be happy'. we evolved to satisfy those culturally/environmentally condoned activities that give us the same neurotransmitter cascades that caused our evolutionary ancestors to meet with success. In todays culture - that means (primarily) acquiring money. It doesnt have to be that, and it won' be that for much longer.  The digits we (think we) hold in the bank are like a squirrel putting nuts away. They dont make us happy, but we are 'satisfied' in that its what we think we should be doing. 

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:41 | 2386099 PhattyBuoy
PhattyBuoy's picture

Note to self ...

PhatPong vacation to emit some cascading neurotransmitters.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:30 | 2386310 The Big Ching-aso
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"Expectation is root of all unhappiness.  Keep this in mind with money or marriage."



Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:51 | 2386388 kindape
kindape's picture

The 'unexpected reward' when the squirrel discovers the nuts were filled with a non-caloric substitute will probably engender a neurotransmitter cascade of a different sort....

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:34 | 2386074 navy62802
navy62802's picture

Money can buy a certain type of happiness. Sure. Makes sense. Entirely depends on what kind of happiness you're talking about here.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:34 | 2386076 Alcoholic Nativ...
Alcoholic Native American's picture

"In almost every country in the world, people who give money to charity are happier than people who do not give money to charity and interestingly spending-on-other-people made teams or people (sports or sales) more successful - of course, we assume taxation does not count as spending on other people."

Sounds very scientific aaaaand it appeals to the libertaritian in me who hates paying taxes.


This is a good article.  Keep em coming Tyler.  You POS

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:03 | 2386200 Vampyroteuthis ...
Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

MDB must be proud of your stupid comments. Troll elsewhere.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:35 | 2386078 cossack55
cossack55's picture

I'm glad you Tylers threw that taxation caveat in there.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:55 | 2386162 Hagbard Celine
Hagbard Celine's picture

...deleted pointless statement of the obvious...

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:40 | 2386094 williambanzai7
williambanzai7's picture

Phay Pong no, Soi Cowboy maybe...

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:44 | 2386115 junkyardjack
junkyardjack's picture

The government should raise taxes, then everyone will be happy...

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:47 | 2386132 CH1
CH1's picture

TED has become a joke: Self-congratulatory posers, trying to define a slightly more hip status quo.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:49 | 2386134 Whoa Dammit
Whoa Dammit's picture

I once read that some Native American tribes had a custom that at the end of each year the tribe member with the most possessions/wealth had to give it all away. I think they were probaly pretty happy until we showed up.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:04 | 2386208 Vampyroteuthis ...
Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

The Native Americans had beads and trinkets to give up. Not much to miss. Giving up a mansion and a few BMWs. That would be something to miss.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:32 | 2386308 Canaduh
Canaduh's picture

It's called a potlach. The Amerindians of the PNW used to give away extraordinary amounts of material wealth. Destroying the potlach ceremony was considered essential to 'civilize' them.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 17:01 | 2386415 riphowardkatz
riphowardkatz's picture

they were so selfish they were only giving it away to increase their status.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:30 | 2386318 Nobody For President
Nobody For President's picture

Horseshit. Try educating yourself a tiny, tiny bit about Native American culture in general and the Potlatch tradition in particular:


What was given away by the wealthiest was roughly equivilant to your BMWs - status was confered by the amount given.

In short, it was a really, really different mindset than what many on this list carry with them - call it the Yuppie brigade or whatever.

Of course money is important, until you have enough. The trick is defining what 'enough' is - some people will never get there, and probably never be happy.

So just for the hell of it, next panhandler you see, give them a yuppie food stamp ($20 bill) and see how that works for you.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:50 | 2386385 riphowardkatz
riphowardkatz's picture

war mongers, slave owners, scalpers, no property rights and no reason, worshiping made up stuff like crow gods, those were good times. give it away before its stolen not a bad philosophy

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:10 | 2386225 Real Estate Geek
Real Estate Geek's picture

They had this whole continent all to themselves, and we "helped" them give it all away.  So what's the problem?


Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:49 | 2386136 Coke and Hookers
Coke and Hookers's picture

So what he's saying is that the feelgood sensation from giving is true happiness - right? Is there any single lecture on TED that isn't total bullshit?

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:12 | 2386233 Real Estate Geek
Real Estate Geek's picture

Here's one that's not total bullshit.  It's called "How to Start a Movement," and it's only three minutes long. Enjoy.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 22:56 | 2387303 StychoKiller
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So, being selfish while all around you starve makes you feel good?  Check yer premises.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:50 | 2386146 Sudden Debt
Sudden Debt's picture

Money can buy you silver!
Silver can buy you a defence against crazy inflation.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:52 | 2386152 zero_cool
zero_cool's picture

Seems like money earned vs. money given to the participants to spend is a critical factor that was not considered in this analysis.  I would posit that people spend money differently based on the mechanisms in which they receive it.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:52 | 2386156 freeasabee1
freeasabee1's picture

one can't get "happy", one can only be happy---you are or are not---now lets drink....

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:57 | 2386166 Sudden Debt
Sudden Debt's picture

If you ain't got any, happiness is hard to find. But money alone and spending it on luxery doesn't buy happyness.
You can never spend enough.
If you can buy everything you need and a bit extra, you feel careless. And being careless helps to be less stressed and no stress creates room for happy moments.
But people think they need to feel happy all the time. And that's not possible.
Happynes is a moment. And those moments are whatS important in life.
If every moment in your life was a party, it wouldn't be called a party anymore.

People who are happy all the time only exist on facebook and on TV. They're not real.

To know happyness one must also know sadness.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 22:58 | 2387307 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

Moderation in ALL things...

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:56 | 2386177 cdskiller
cdskiller's picture

I want to make rich people as happy as possible. To do that, I have to force them to be charitable, because instinctively they try to keep as much of their money as they can and spend it on themselves which only makes them unhappy, which leads to their bitterness and desire to control everything and start wars, so what we need to do is force them to give 75% of their income over 500k to a charitable fund that would pay exclusively for the education and health care of fellow Americans who cannot afford it. Everyone would be so happy they would never stop smiling.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:59 | 2386187 Sudden Debt
Sudden Debt's picture

bitterness comes when people expect that people adore them for what they've got but somehow nobody likes them or adores them and they feel left alone.
Friend and family and normal relations without bragging are the cure. Not giving money away.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 19:17 | 2386838 crawldaddy
crawldaddy's picture

we get it, you are a tight ass,  Each year you must watch the first 10 minutes of scrooge and then turn t off,  since scrooge was right for fucking over everyone, being a tight ass, and never giving back to the community and its people, the rest of that story must really piss you off.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 23:00 | 2387311 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

Making an observation about the state of things is NOT the same as condoning it; check yer premises.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:57 | 2386183 praps
praps's picture

Money can't make you happy, but at least you can choose your form of misery.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 15:58 | 2386184 batz
batz's picture


Spending money on other people isn't altruistic, what made them happy was the power from giving something that meant more to the person who received it than it did to you. 

Money doesn't buy happiness, but it buys power, and power brings happiness.


Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:02 | 2386196 Sudden Debt
Sudden Debt's picture

Never give money to people. They'll never thank you for it and when you give money to people they change.
I never give money away. I never give a loan to friend or family either.
To dangerous. When you give it to friends or family, you can lose them.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:13 | 2386237 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture

Sometimes it's the best investment possible for the money.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:17 | 2386257 Sudden Debt
Sudden Debt's picture

Nop, mostly it's never enough.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 19:07 | 2386812 crawldaddy
crawldaddy's picture

utter bullshit.

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 16:28 | 2386301 Offtheradar
Offtheradar's picture

Well spoken my friend.  I had to learn that lesson on my own.  Your dead on.

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