Does Money Buy Happiness?

Thanksgiving was this week. Hope you had fun.

I was lucky enough to spend time with family and friends watching the Cowboys make the Los Angeles Chargers look good. 


11252017 Cowboys


My mother always used to lead the table in answering "What are you thankful for?"  After the groaning subsided, we would answer.  Typically, the focus was predictable – family, togetherness, and health. 

Those answers neglect a pivotal part of our happiness. People often view happiness or gratitude as a consequence of their surroundings … of good things happening in the world around them.

A different, but potentially related question is … does money buy happiness?

I asked my son, Zach, to answer … Here is what he compiled.

Happiness is a complex issue. It differs from culture to culture, and more granularly from person to person. 

One of the more basic questions is, where are the happiest people?

11262017 Happiness Reportvia World Happiness Report

Unfortunately, finding out where the happiest people are doesn't tell us how to be happy. In fact, there's a whole section of economics called Happiness Economics that strives to figure it out.

Most studies show that money doesn't buy happiness … above a certain point. 

The studies show that there's an income level (relative to your cost of living) where increased money does not increase happiness. For example, in Hawaii, it would be $122,175, but in Mississippi, the threshold is only $65,850. Essentially, past subsistence, other factors matter more. Quality of life and work/life balance being two key ones.

The Easterlin Paradox states that while individuals in higher GDP countries were more likely to report happiness, it doesn't hold at a national level, creating the paradox. 

The existence of a hedonic treadmill - or set point of happiness – may be up to debate, but this hits on an important distinction. Most people start yearning for money as a means of protection and care for themselves and their families, but don't change their goals once they've accomplished that.

If obtaining more money comes at the cost of your happiness is it worth it?

Finding the right balance can be hard. With most high-achievers, there's always a best next step, a new mountain to climb, a tougher challenge to surmount … and nothing is ever enough. 

While achievement drives me as well, I think the story below is worth considering below. 

The Story of The Mexican Fisherman: 

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Finding your own personal brand of happiness is vital … to your success, your companies success, and the success of your relationships, and I was reminded of a video my dad shot on zero-based thinking.


To be happy, or successful, are there things you need to stop doing? Something you want to start doing? Or things you need to do more of? Food for thought to pair with your leftovers from Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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