Does Money Prevent Happiness?

2010 February 17
by Kyle Bumpus
from → Commentary

I’m sure many of you have already heard this store…Austrian millionaire Karl Rabeder has decided to give away every penny of his $5.3 million fortune, saying all the money makes him unhappy.  He has also sold the interior furnishings business that earned him his fortune.  Many bloggers have predictably applauded Rabeder’s unusually extreme move.  J.D. from Get Rich Slowly commended Rabeder for doing what was right for himself.  Not surprisingly, I have a dramatically different opinion.

Money Isn’t The Problem

Rabeder is quoted as saying

“For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness. I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years.”

A man brought up in a poor family could be forgiven for believing more money, more things, are the key to a happy life.  When you have nothing, it’s understandable that having something could come to be seen as the most desirable manifestation of success.

Well, everybody knows money isn’t everything.  Rabeder, like perhaps most Americans, fell into the trap of thinking it was.  Also like most Americans, he eventually came to the realization that money can’t buy happiness (in fact, there is increasing evidence a large percentage of our happiness is genetic).

Unfortunately, Rabeder took this realization that money isn’t everything and ran in the completely wrong direction, saying

“Money is counter-productive — it prevents happiness.”

Think about that for a second.  How could money, an inanimate object…indeed, most often nothing more than a series of charged particles on a hard drive somewhere, prevent happiness?  The obvious answer is, it can’t.  Money can no more prevent happiness as it can create it.

Rabeder didn’t learn his lesson.  He is still chasing happiness from something outside himself.  Before, it was having money.  Now, it’s not having money, but it could just as easily be chasing happiness from a relationship, children, a political agenda, or practically anything else.  Rabeder hasn’t yet learned that happiness doesn’t come from what you have or don’t have, it comes from within.  Money didn’t prevent his happiness, something else within himself did.  I have no doubt Rabeder will someday come to the realization that giving all his money away has made him no happier than he was when realized his constant pursuit of money left him feeling like a slave.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for rich people doing whatever they want with their money, and I’m glad Rabeder decided to donate his wealth to a good cause, but I fear his actions send the wrong message to weary souls in desperate need of meaning.  Just because doing something doesn’t make you happy doesn’t mean doing the opposite will.  Rabeder could have just as easily kept his money and devoted his time and energy towards more meaningful pursuits.  Giving it all away so publicly strikes me more as a cry for attention than anything else, though I doubt even he is aware of it.

I could be wrong about all this.  Maybe Rabeder really will be happier without all that money, although I doubt it.  But there’s one thing I am certain I am not wrong about:  money does not prevent happiness and giving it away does not create it.

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5 Responses
  1. 2010 February 17

    If happiness is genetic which I believe it is, we may be developing to sets of human races. I would not want to marry an unhappy woman and I have always been a happy man. My children are happy as well. I assume unhappy people will find each other as misery loves company and we will in time create two human races.

  2. 2010 February 18

    Alternatively, maybe the money happiness correlation has some sort of diminishing return built in? You may have seen this Newsweek article form some time back, but it’s a pretty decent summary:

    Maybe Karl realized that once he left poverty the feeling he got leaving could never be attained again? Maybe he’ll attempt to try it again?

  3. 2010 February 20

    Hah! Loved this. I never read the entire article when this hit the internet (still haven’t, actually) but your overview and take on it is very very interesting. I enjoyed this :) And I think I have to agree too.

  4. 2010 February 22

    Being happy is a mindset and choice, much like being rich or poor.

  5. 2010 February 22

    If only it was that easy: money = happiness. The trick is finding happiness without equating it to money, especially here in the US where “who has the most toys” is a goal for so many people!

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