If “happiness is believed to be the most desirable thing in the world”, why do we continue to pursue money?

Nicole Adams

Aristotle argues that “wealth evidently is not the good of which we are in search of, for it is merely useful as a means to something else.” [1]  Many believe that happiness is this “something else”; if money can be a means to make us happy than it would make sense why people would choose to pursue money in order to achieve happiness. However, it is important to remember that money itself does not help us achieve true happiness, it only allows us to buy things that temporarily make us feel happy.

If my happiness is derived solely from what money can buy me, this means that if I was stuck on a deserted island with a million dollars but nothing to spend it on, I would not be able to buy my happiness. Therefore, money does not make me happy, but what money enables me to purchase makes me temporarily feel happy.

If money can indeed buy temporary feelings of happiness, can money also buy me long- term happiness? This can best be answered by raising the question: what can money buy us? Money can only buy tangible things, and since not all things that make me happy are tangible, money cannot buy me happiness. Let’s think about ice cream. It makes us feel happy-but only temporarily. Once this temporary feeling is gone, I need to spend more money in order to buy more temporary satisfaction. This incentivizes me to desire more money, so that I can preserve this feeling of happiness. The result is a secession of temporary feelings of happiness, not the true happiness that we all desire. Only actions and experiences like friendships, traveling, nature, or volunteering can help us achieve happiness (not just “feel” happy).

According to a study from Princeton University, “…after you make $75,000 per year, increasing your income is not going to make you any ‘happier.’” [2] If this is true, why do we crave more money? Because we can spend money on materials that give us temporary satisfaction, we falsely believe that money can make us happy. However this cannot be the case. Aristotle argues that happiness is an action, specifically the “exercise of his faculties [or soul] on one side in obedience to reason, and on the other side with reason”, not a feeling.[3] This means that feeling happy when eating ice cream is not actual happiness, because it is a feeling, not an action. If only actions like spending time with friends or volunteering can make us happy, but money cannot buy us these actions, then money cannot make us happy.

Chasing after money in the belief that it will make us happy is like chasing a mirage; the money we chase is simply the means, so it cannot lead us to our desired end- happiness. This is because money only buys us materials that bring a temporary “feeling” of happiness but cannot buy us the actions and experiences required for us to obtain true happiness.

Quotation in Title: Aristotle, How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch (Dallas: Ursuline Academy, 2016), 5.

[1] Aristotle, How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch (Dallas: Ursuline Academy, 2016), 4.

[2] Belinda Luscombe, “Do We Need $75,000 a Year to Be Happy?,” Time.com, September 6, 2010, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html.

[3] Aristotle, How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch (Dallas: Ursuline Academy, 2016), 6.

Photograph: Happiness is not More Money, June 22, 2016, http://exploringpsyche.com/happiness-is-not-more-money/.

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