using money to buy happiness
using money to buy happiness

How to Buy Happiness: Using Your Money For Good

By CJ McClanahan 

Forewarning: Though this article contains Biblical references, this article is not designed to proselytize or abdicate that my religious beliefs are “right,” so let’s just get that out of the way.


They say you can’t buy happiness. If you were raised to believe this adage, you’re doing it all wrong. I would know - I use money to buy happiness all the time.

“How?” you ask. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s look at the idea that money is a bad thing.

A Brief History of Money.

In every culture, trade is necessary for the survival and advancement of civilization.

Before a standard currency system was adopted by a culture, people would trade what they had an abundance of for what they had a limited of supply of.

To this day, bartering is an essential form of commerce in many parts of the world, even in developed societies like the U.S.

However, in a purely trade-based currency system, exchange rates fluctuate at a moment’s notice and are almost entirely subject to supply and demand. Today, four fur pelts may get you 5 pounds of crop seed, and tomorrow it may only get you 1 pound, but they won’t get you any nails for building a home.

In an effort to standardize and speed up trade, civilizations adopted a standard non-agricultural currency system. Around 500 B.C., we started to see the birth of modern currency. Governments, like the Ancient Greeks, were manufacturing precious metals, such as silver and gold, for use as legal tender.

Maintaining and transporting a small sack of coins was, and still is, much easier than using farm animals, and civilizations could trade with others with more assurance that the resources they exchanged would be more widely accepted.

For millennia, this was the major form of currency. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the gold standard was substituted for a governmental guarantee in fiat money.

Though heavily debated to this day, fiat money is the preferred, and all but exclusive, form of currency used throughout the world.

Money is the Root of All Evil.

If you grew up in a Christian household like I did, your parents probably taught you some very important ideas about money, mainly, that money is a source of greed, and greed is a sin.

While I cannot dispute that money can be used for very terrible and egregious acts and behaviors, money is used for beneficial purposes far more frequently.

The idea that “money is the root of all evil” has been passed down for generations, and is rooted in Biblical Scripture. However, there is a very significant distinction that must be made, as this does not tell the whole story.

In the book God and Money, the authors John Cortines and Gregory Baumer clarify that the Scripture actually says that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

Comparing the two versions, you can clearly see that the two are very different. The first emphasizes that money is bad, whereas the latter places total emphasis on the relationship with money.

I had the opportunity of interview Greg Baumer, where he went on to say that “Wealth is like dynamite, with great potential for both harm and good… it will have a great impact, and it’s up to us to choose to use it for good or evil."

Scarcity Versus Abundance.

If you scroll through any social media site, you’ll undoubtedly discover people talking about adopting an abundance mindset. In fact, a simple Instagram search returns nearly 3 million posts to the subject.

Unfortunately, if you grew up in a household where the narrative around money was that there was never enough, you were most likely taught that money was hard to come by, or worse, you were not deserving of it. If you’ve ever worked a minimum wage or hourly-rate job, this principle was probably reinforced every time you received your paycheck.

In the U.S., money and finances fall into a category of taboo subjects. One could argue it’s less acceptable to talk about money than it is to talk about sex, death, divorce, religion, or substance abuse. Money is such a touchy topic that many domestic partnerships fail to disclose their financial status with their partner.

But let’s get one thing very clear, there is no shortage of money. With our fiat currency system, governments can seemingly print it out of thin air. In addition, with the dawn of the readily-accessible internet connection, money is more free flowing than at any other point in the history of mankind.

According to Fortune magazine, even with stagnant wage increases, at the end of 2016 the United States was producing more than 1,700 new millionaires every single day.

It’s clear that lack of money isn’t the real problem. Rather, the relationship people have with money is where they get hung up.

The Misperception that Success Equals Happiness.

In almost all societies, wealth is a sign of success. People tend to display their wealth through acquiring things: big houses, expensive cars, designer clothes, fancy dinners, the latest gadgets and lavish vacations.

Therefore, the more stuff you have, the more successful people will think you are.

However, we are realizing more and more that these “successful” people overspend and overextend themselves at a much higher rate, and their things become part of their identity. If those things are ever taken away from them, they wouldn’t have the faintest idea who they are.

What this means is that the typical ways of outward displays of success do not equate to internal happiness.

Buying (True) Happiness.

New things can indeed bring about a sense of excitement, and in the moment, we can feel joy. However, these feelings wear off just as fast as they arrive, and we’re left looking for something else to fill a void.

Psychologists and researchers have tried to measure happiness, and in every study, the person with the most stuff is never the happiest. In fact, once your income covers your basic needs and expenses, the impact of money on perceived happiness drops off sharply.

What is clear is that more money, in itself, doesn’t make you happy. That said, how you use your wealth has the greatest impact on how happy you are.

If, for example, you pass by a homeless man with a sign that reads “Down, but not out. Anything helps.” and you give him a few bucks, you’ll most likely have a sense of joy that lasts hours, days even.

At its core, there is a transfer of money taking place. However, unlike buying something for yourself, this transfer is not transactional; you’re not giving money in exchange for a good or service. Rather, when you give money away to a worthy cause or someone less fortunate, you’re empowering them to make a difference in their lives.

With just a few dollars, you can provide for someone’s livelihood. With a packet of nuts, jerky, or a bottle of water, you give someone hope that they will survive another day.

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With just a few dollars, you can provide for someone’s livelihood. With a packet of nuts, jerky, or a bottle of water, you give someone hope that they will survive another day.

It doesn’t matter if you donate thousands of dollars to a non-profit, or volunteer at a food pantry, having a willingness for giving away your resources, whether that is time, money, or expertise (in which you more than likely have an objective abundance of), is an incredibly effective strategy for increasing how happy you are overall.

A Proven Path to Happiness.

As someone who has battled with depression and anxiety for decades, I’ve tried everything from books and therapy to hypnosis and medication. All of it has helped me become more tolerant of stress and anxiety and lessen their impact on my emotional and mental states.

That said, what has had the greatest impact on getting out of my head is focusing on the needs of others. It’s become such a staple in my life that I give away thousands of dollars of my own money (not just from my business) every year to organizations and causes that align with my values.

I don’t do this because I’m selfless (or guilted into it). I give for one main reason- it makes me feel good. It may seem ironic, but you could argue I give out of a selfish desire to feel good. And every time I give, I feel great.


I’m not the only one, either. There is a growing movement of wealthy professionals prioritizing giving as an everyday exercise.

In the end, it’s become clear that self-serving behavior only goes so far, and beyond our basic needs, acquiring in the material world makes us less happy. If we truly want to be happy over the long-term we have to find the communities that we align with and learn how we can support them.

Not only is it good for our mental and emotional health (helper's high), it opens the doors to opportunities and relationships we’d otherwise not experience. That, in itself, is a powerful argument for learning how to buy happiness.

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