Our most recent book club choice was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The author spends a year researching happiness and trying to find small ways to boost her own. She has a chapter on money and the old question of whether you can buy happiness. She comes to the conclusion that you can. She tells about meeting a woman who disagreed very strongly with her on this point, explaining that she had no money because she spent it all to buy a horse, and that horse brings her so much happiness. Rubin responds that she just proved that you can buy happiness - the lady bought a horse, which made her happy. The lady vehemently said no, she was happy even though she had no money, because of the horse. BUT YOU BOUGHT THE HORSE.
I can imagine getting into an argument with the horse lady. YOU BOUGHT THE HORSE. WITH MONEY.
I agree that you can buy happiness. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that you can buy some happiness. I'm not saying that more money equals more happiness, nor that anyone's happiness comes entirely from things that were bought. I'm saying that you can exchange money for things that make you happy. Money is a tool in our world that can give you access to things or experiences. I bet that for everybody, there is something that could be purchased that would make them happy. My house makes me happy. I need a place to live anyway, and it is also a long-term investment, but my particular house just makes me happy. The silly things that I buy at yard sales make me happy. That ridiculous sarcophagus makes Josh happy. Every time he sees it, it gives him a little burst of joy. Other things that he did not (and could not) buy make him happy, things like tall, goofy girlfriends. The fact that a bought sarcophagus makes him happy does not diminish the happiness that I give him.
Like the lady's horse, my dog makes me happy. A pet is a great example of a bought-happiness situation. Remix costs money. I paid to get her, I pay to feed her, I pay to keep her healthy. She does not bring anything tangible to the household. She does not do the dishes, she gets fluff all over the place, and she eats the furniture. She does lick the floor clean, but I'm not sure that counts as paying her way. I feel better having a ferocious pitbull in the house, but thus far there hasn't been a situation where she has actually protected us. She brings peace of mind and entertainment and compansionship. We pay for happiness in the form of a slobbering goober dog.
The relationship between money and happiness is complicated. There is no simple equation that explains it. For one thing, if you have no money, such that your basic needs are not being fulfilled, you're likely to be unhappy. A lack of money can correspond to a lack of happiness. Rubin compares it to good health in that way. When you are not healthy, it's hard to be happy. But being healthy doesn't necessarily mean that you are happy. So it goes with money.
What's also interesting is that you can feel happiness by giving money away, like by giving it to charity or buying someone a gift. And money itself, rather than the things you buy with it, can also make you happy. I am happy that I have money in the bank. It's like a pitbull in the house.
Money is not good or evil, it's just a tool that can only be what we make it. You can worship it, and many people do. You can pin all your hopes on it, only to be disappointed. You can use it to try and buy happiness and fail. Or, you can buy a horse!