You Cannot Buy Your Way To Happiness, No Matter What You Think.

Americans are pretty depressed people. We are the most medicated and most in debt of all first world countries. We take prescriptions for ailments we make up, we are gaining weight and contracting fatal diseases at an alarming rate, we buy new cars and TV’s at the rate that some people in poor countries go grocery shopping, and we think we are entitled to anything we want no matter the consequence. It’s not only our national debt that is out of control – it is also our personal debt which has spiraled to a whopping $13.8 TRILLION dollars, which is up 20% since 2005. Combine our “need” for the latest and greatest (even when we cannot afford it), keeping up with the Joneses, and the recession we are sitting in right now, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. We are doing our best to buy our way to happiness – and it just doesn’t work.

Sure, a new TV is nice – but after a while it is just a TV and it probably does the same thing your last fully-functioning one did when you threw it away. A new car? Smells great, doesn’t rattle – but after a few thousand miles the initial high wears off and it just moves you from Point A to Point B. Believe me, I have been there – buying things that I didn’t need because I was bored or sad or whatever. And all those purchases went on credit cards that then took me YEARS to pay off – at one point I had about $35K in credit card debt. Most of that was useless crap that I didn’t really need, but rather I thought would make me happy. But after the initial rush, it’s just stuff – and stuff cannot make you happy for more than a few minutes. And even then it’s not a true happiness – it’s an external happiness that does nothing for you on the inside.

We Americans always thought that the day would come when we could get a new job and pay off our bills. Or sell our house and pay off the bills. Or worse yet, take out a second mortgage to pay off the bills. That thinking has come home to roost and left us with that $13 trillion in personal debt – with no way to pay it off. Credit was too easy to get – people with barely any income were given home loans and lines of credit that they could not afford. $35,000 cars were allowed to drive off lots with no money down. Well, those days are gone at least for a while – and I think it is a very good thing. Consumers should be forced to save up for what they want and not be given carte blanche with someone else’s money. It’s very easy to blame the banks, but it is also our fault – we are the ones who thought we needed a new plasma TV when our tube TV works perfectly fine. Or that we needed a 5 bedroom house for our 3-member household. Or that we deserved to to buy $500 handbags because we “had a rough week”. Truly, it’s about time the credit crunch came along and people woke up – we as a nation were trying to buy happiness – and hopefully we have learned that it cannot be bought.

It is time for us to BE more and DO more rather than BUY more. Go outside, go for a hike, go camping, take the kids to a baseball game. Start reading, join a club, start a new hobby. Stop watching TV 5 hours a night getting sucked into the newest advertisements for crap you don’t need.

I am not against purchasing items that you want – you work for your money, you should be able to buy things you want with it. We do it as well. In fact, I am buying a new laptop this week. But it is replacing a laptop I have had since I met my wife, which was 6 years ago. But buying when you can afford something goes a long way toward your financial health, and it makes items worth more as you know you really worked hard to be able to afford it. More importantly, you are not buying anything because you are unhappy or just bored – you are planning in advance and saving the cash you need for the item . Not having debt from your purchases can lead to true happiness!

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Comments (17)

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  1. Peter says:

    I think a lot of people equate having money and/or things with true happiness. thanks for the reminder that true happiness comes from other sources.

  2. Miranda says:

    I think the key, also, is to be happy with what you have. So often we fall into the “If I only had…” trap. We think that more money, or just the right item, will make us happy. The bottom line is that if you can’t be happy with what you have right now, you won’t be happy with more stuff.

  3. david says:

    Absolutely. I also often fall into the “I will do that WHEN…” trap – and if you are not careful, life will speed right by without you doing anything!

  4. Kim A. says:

    Amen brother!! Well said (am sending this to my two sons with the hopes of some of it sinking in)


  5. Money can buy you the time to do the things that bring happiness to you and your family. If you keep that in mind, the rest of the stuff will become less important.

  6. claire says:

    I’d like to propose that our twisted work ethic has something to do with it. Seriously–we’re expected to do and be everything and operate at 150%. Collectively, we can’t relax; maybe we’ve lost the ability to do so. Certainly this contributes to a number of anxiety issues and problems stemming from high blood pressure. It’s just gotten worse over time; my grandmother observed that Americans never used to work this hard. The downside to all this technology is that the *expectation* that we become overworked is now at its peak. It’s no secret that we’re far more manic about working and take fewer vacation days than some of our European counterparts. The average grunt seems to be happy with this arrangement, but the sense of entitlement also skyrockets along with it. “We kill ourselves working, so we deserve the best x,y,z and we want it NOW.

  7. Hear hear. If you can afford it, go for it

    But I find that people with money are the ones who are the least likely to part with it

  8. Not to offend you, but articles like this that point out how bad everything is depressing. Ignorance truly is bliss…

  9. david says:

    No, ignorance is not bliss. To be ignorant is not to know what is going on around you or how to grow as a person, and I choose to be informed.

  10. Saver Queen says:

    I completely agree. I do think that the credit crises presents an opportunity for us all to be more mindful of not only what we spend, but to consider what is truly important to us. I hope that people will start to reflect what they can accomplish and how they can contribute to the world, and focus on other opportunities besides shopping!

  11. Trevor says:

    I agree. “Be more and do more…”

    After all, the most lasting memories typically come from things that don’t cost- spending time with family/friends, service, etc…

    Those things are what really matter. It is nice to get a new TV every once in awhile too! 🙂

  12. David Y says:

    I’ve always been pretty frugal. But, i have had some ‘if I only had’ moments. In the last couple of years, beed trying to be more frugal and live simply. I find that I am happier and more content. Plus, when it comes time to buy something, can afford good quality.

    While we Americans may have more stuff than people in other countries, sometimes it seems they are living happier lives. Getting out and enjoying yourself is more fun than working overtime to pay for the stuff you don’t have time to use because you are working overtime to pay for it. Plus, there is the stress of wondering if you will lose your stuff in the current down economy.

    Finally, you are right. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

  13. Tina says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post and totally agree with you. I use to be a shopaholic and bought things I did not need or because they were on sale. I’m doing a lot better now. Paying off my debt and slowing saving money. I thought that I would wait until I paid off all my bills before starting a savings account. For me that process just never worked. I now pay myself first out of every pay check. So far this is working great for me. And writing down goals and everything I spend my money on.

    Thanks for the great job you do on your blog. It gives me that little push and motivation I need to stay on track.

  14. […] You can’t buy happiness […]

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  16. […] of this behavior, such as the “Keep up with the Joneses” routine or the “I will buy my way to happiness” route, but there has to be more than that. It’s almost as if people do, in fact, feel […]

  17. I agree with some of your examples, but I would say that money will buy you happiness in that if you have enough of it you have complete and total freedom. Freedom of time and material things.

    You can travel, buy your dream home, spend time with friends and family rather than work…

    A new TV and car every few years are things people buy when they have the illusion of money, not when they possess and understand it.