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Money Can Buy Happiness

Or so MP Dunleavy asserts in the title of her book Money Can Buy Happiness. Seeing that book at my library, I couldn’t very well leave it unattended. I have mixed feeling’s about Dunleavy’s writing and advice in general, you can get a sample of the ups and downs here. Nonetheless, it was an intriguing title. This isn’t a formal review, just some thoughts on the concept.

I think the subtitle “how to spend to get the life you want,” is a perfect summary of the book. Money can’t buy happiness because happiness isn’t aommodity, but how we choose to spend our money can have a huge impact on how happy we are.

For example, many personal finance writers want to get out of debt (or at least consumer debt) because not having to pay debt every month will make us happier. It’ll also make our money more available.

The key to buying happiness is being aware of what you’re buying. I’ve been guilty of mindless buying at times, seeing something and thinking that I’ll really enjoy it without giving it real consideration. My DVD collection makes me shudder because I’m not sure why I felt it was necessary to own this or that video. Borrowing it a couple times from the library would have been more than sufficient.

On the other hand, I love to quilt. So buying fabric for quilting is buying happiness in potentia. The fabric doesn’t contain innate happiness, but I will use it to make myself very happy. Or lately I’ve rediscovered the intoxication of playing my violin. It wasn’t cheap, but it has certainly paid off in years of happiness.

I’m pretty sure one of my coworkers pays for an elaborate sports package with his cable. But since he’s a self-described sports fanatic, I’m sure it greatly increases his happiness because he gets plenty of use out of it. If he can afford it, then it’s a great decision, probably much better than buying an iPhone would be. My dad, conversely, loves his iPhone but could care less about sports.

Dunleavy refers to a “happiness portfolio” and encourages us to consider how what we spend contributes to it. This requires taking some time to think at first about what actually makes us happy and how we can wisely spend to increase our happiness (and cut out areas which don’t make us happy and aren’t necessary).

Besides organizing our pleasure spending, thinking in terms of a happiness portfolio helps us reimagine our necessary spending. Most PF bloggers get excited about paying off debt because they see it as a step to freedom. We can also reimagine things like rent or mortgage as buying a sense of safety, well being, and protection from the cold. We can reimagine retirement savings as providing happiness in our old age.

We should also consider all the free sources of happiness, or ways we can find happiness in things we already own. Those allow us to expand our happiness portfolio without spending a dime!

I’ll do a more detailed review later with my thoughts on the good and bad points of the book, but I think her overall point is correct. Money can’t buy happiness in itself, but proper use of money can make us much happier.


Miranda October 22, 2008 at 11:17 am

To a certain extent, money does play a role in happiness. A certain amount for needs (food, shelter, clothing) is necessary. However, once you get beyond that, personality, priorities and other issues become involved.

I like the idea of thinking about how you spend your money and making choices that give you the best value (including enjoyment) for your money. As long as you can afford it, of course.

Mr. ToughMoneyLove October 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I like to think of having extra money to buy experiences or to buy time to for those experiences. The experiences can be joyful, exciting, memorable, educational, relaxing, or otherwise. Having those experiences can lead to a state of contentment and satisfaction.

Dawn October 22, 2008 at 12:57 pm

There is another aspect – having money, not “rich” per se’ but having enough that you are secure and not in debt – eliminates worry and fear. That increases your happiness because you aren’t always afraid of the bill collector calling or an emergency happening. It’s hard to be happy when you are constantly waiting for a shoe to drop.

LAL October 22, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Thanks for the meniton.

Aya @ Thrive October 22, 2008 at 5:32 pm

I think “proper use of money” is well phrased, and puts the value back in the money that we so often take advantage of. If we properly use money, we might have less impulse purchases and we can spend less time trying to justify our spending with lame excuses.

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