Can Money Buy Happiness?

Luxembourg vs. Zimbabwe

How does a country’s wealth affect its peoples’ happiness, according to Aristotle’s definition of the term?

By Nikki Nolan, Period 1

In today’s global materialistic society, happiness is often defined by wealth.  We see another person, a middle aged man, driving down the street in a brand new fancy sports car sitting next to a beautiful blonde woman. Automatically, without knowing anything about him, most people would assume that this man is perfectly content with his life—that he has found happiness. However, Aristotle would argue that this man, most likely, has not found the true happiness that all humans are destined to seek.

Typically, people view happiness as a feeling of elation, a momentary high. Because of this outlook, a common misconception is that because material objects often allow people to feel happy for a moment, being wealthy and having the ability to buy whatever one wants must mean that a person, like the man mentioned above, has found happiness. This view of happiness is founded on greed and selfish pleasures—the desires of life instead of the necessities. [1] However, according to Aristotle, the money-making life “is something quite contrary to nature; and wealth evidently is not the good of which we are in search, for it is merely useful as a means to something else.”

Aristotle believes that the ultimate end, or purpose, of humans is “the good”, or happiness, which lies in a man’s function. As he states in The Nicomachean Ethics, “the good is the final end, and happiness is this.” However, his view is different than what most people think of when they ponder happiness. To Aristotle, happiness is a goal—in other words, people want to be happy, not feel happy. He officially defines happiness “as a certain kind of exercise of the vital faculties in accordance with excellence or virtue.” Thus, to be happy, to fulfill one’s function, one must live their life in accordance with reason. The ability to think rationally, to utilize virtues, and the power to overrule instinct and make choices all set the human race apart from any other living beings. Therefore, society shouldn’t drive people to strive for wealth and materialistic objects, but rather the society in which people live in should help and guide people to focus on achieving their good and fulfilling their function by allowing them to live with reason, make choices, and live virtuous lives.

Because of today’s views concerning happiness as explained above, many people believe that the richest countries have the happiest citizens, while the poorest have the least happy. On the other hand, one might assume that the wealthiest countries have the least happy people, because their priorities are materialistic, while the poorer countries allow people to truly discover their function without the distraction of greed. Yet, just because a country is poor or rich does not mean its citizens will necessarily be happy or unhappy, as happiness is actually not based on wealth at all. We can create an understanding of how a country affects its people’s happiness based on how well it provides its citizens with the opportunity to live a happy life according to Aristotle’s definition. Does the country promote the well-being of its citizens? Does the society allow its citizens to freely make their own choices? Does the country protect its peoples’ rights and liberties? Does the country value religious freedom? Does the society promote the importance of wealth, or the importance of living a virtuous life? Overall, a society should help its people to achieve their end goal of living their life according to reason.

In order to do this, a country must value virtues over wealth. Although wealth can aid the country in allowing its citizens to live virtuous lives, it should not be the end goal. A country can create a society that allows people to achieve their good by creating a system of government that provides its people with the freedom and knowledge to make good choices and live virtuously.

Luxembourg is a small, landlocked country located in Western Europe. [2] According to the World Bank, Luxembourg is currently the second wealthiest country in the world (based on its gross domestic product per capita). [3] The country also ranked nineteenth on the United Nations General Assembly’s World Happiness Report. [4] However, just because it is one of the wealthiest countries and apparently one of the “happiest”, does that mean that its society promotes its people to follow the path to finding true happiness, according to Aristotle’s definition? In order to determine this, the values of the country and its overall society must be discovered.

Luxembourg is a parliamentary democracy, whose executive powers are controlled by a monarchy, with the Grand Duke as chief of state. [5] The country maintains democratic values and holds liberty to a high standard, traits which promote the citizens to freely choose to live in accordance with reason. [6] According to Freedom House, Luxembourg’s government has been relatively free from corruption, and its constitution guarantees several civil rights including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. The government protects people from discrimination and racism. [7] By not only offering its citizens freedom but also protection, the country enforces a strong sense of individualism essential to finding happiness. The country runs a market economy, which was ranked the sixteenth freest in the world.[6] Luxembourg uses its wealth to aid its citizens that are in need by offering several welfare programs and social services, and even extends its wealth beyond that by aiding the poor in other countries. [8] Even though the country is extremely wealthy, it seems as though its society promotes its citizens to make good choices, and values helping those citizens who cannot help themselves. Overall, Luxembourg seems to help its citizens in reaching their goal of achieving happiness by using its wealth not to promote greed and selfishness, but to promote essential virtues and the importance of helping others.

Located in south-central Africa, Zimbabwe is a landlocked country “slightly smaller than California.” [9] In contrast to Luxembourg, Zimbabwe lies on the opposite end of the wealth scale, ranking as the 183rd richest country according to Global Finance Magazine. [3] In the World Happiness Report, Zimbabwe was number one hundred and three. [4] However, does the fact that the country is poor mean that the people are not given the chance to find true happiness? Again, it is important to understand the values and priorities of the government to understand whether or not the people are truly able to discover happiness.

Technically, Zimbabwe is a parliamentary democracy, with a President as the head of state and the head of government.  However, in Zimbabwe, “corruption has become endemic, including at the highest levels of government.” [10] Although the country formally adopted democratic values after it gained independence, the civil rights and liberties of its citizens have failed to be protected. “Rather than promoting an environment in which civic participation and political tolerance are encouraged, the government of Zimabwe has engaged in a systematic crackdown on civil society and the human rights community…”[11]  The government restricts the freedom of the press, and property rights are completely undefended. [12] Many Human Rights Defenders have suffered intimidation and harassment, as the government seeks to suppress any uprising. [13] Due to the political unrest, corruption, and human rights violations in Zimbabwe, the society fails to promote its citizens to achieve their good.  Its economy, like its government, is also in shambles, “characterized by…instability and policy volatility.” [10]  Its economy is the 176th freest in the 2014 index; unemployment is currently at a shockingly-high ninety five percent. [10] Unlike Luxembourg, the government does little to aid its citizens that are in poverty. In fact, the government is so corrupt, that in 2012, an alleged “$2 billion in diamonds had been stolen from Marange [diamond fields] by military and government officials…” [14] Overall, the Zimbabwean government has shown that it values wealth and power more than the virtues and freedom of its citizens, proving that the country does not provide its people with the opportunity to find true happiness according to Aristotle’s definition.

All in all, a society can help or hinder its peoples’ search for true happiness. As Aristotle believes that happiness is living a virtuous life in accordance with reason, a society should work to promote its people to make good choices and uphold the true priorities in life. No matter if a country is rich or poor, a country can form a society that allows its citizens to find happiness. Wealth doesn’t matter, so long as the country is founded on ideals that promote the freedom, protection, and happiness of its citizens. Yet, wealth can aid a country in doing this, as it provides the government with greater access to materials that can help it function in order to support such ideals. Luxembourg proved to be a country that helps its people to achieve their good; however, its wealth is not the central contributing factor—instead, its government style encourages the pursuit happiness among the citizens. In contrast, the government operations of Zimbabwe demonstrate that a corrupt government, not poverty, hinders the society’s ability to find happiness. Overall, wealth does not define happiness; a society can encourage virtuous lives with or without it, so long as its priorities and ideals are based on righteous standards.


[1] PBS. “Happiness.” PBS. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[2] European Union. “Luxembourg.” EUROPA. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[3] Pasquali, Valentina. “The Richest Countries in the World.” . (accessed May 5, 2014).

[4] Staff, LiveScience. “The Happiest (and Saddest) Countries.” LiveScience. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[5] Central Intelligence Agency. “The World Factbook: Luxembourg.” Central Intelligence Agency. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[6] Maps of World. “Luxembourg Government and Politics.” Luxembourg Government and Politics. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[7] “Luxembourg.” Freedom House. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[8] European Working Conditions Observatory. “Working poor in Europe – Luxembourg.” Working poor in Europe – Luxembourg. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[9] Infoplease. “Geography of Zimbabwe.” Infoplease. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[10] The Heritage Foundation. “2014 Index of Economic Freedom: Zimbabwe.” Economy: Population, GDP, Inflation, Business, Trade, FDI, Corruption. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[11] Baron, Meaghan. “Widespread Human Rights Violations Threaten Elections in Zimbabwe.” New Report: Widespread Human Rights Violations Threaten Elections in Zimbabwe | Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights | Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[12] Rural Poverty Portal. “Rural Poverty Portal.” Rural Poverty Portal. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[13] Foreign & Commonwealth Office. “Zimbabwe: Country of Concern.” Zimbabwe. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[14] Freedom House. “Zimbabwe.” Freedom House. (accessed May 5, 2014).


One thought on “Can Money Buy Happiness?

  1. Nikki, I found your article very interesting. You did a good job at explaining what happiness means according to Aristotle and relating that to different countries. I am glad you picked Luxembourg and Zimbabwe because I, like many others, do not know much about those two countries. Your perspective was very interesting. Well done!

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