Ask a philosopher
January 13, 2015
Can money make you happy?

To answer the question, if money can make us happy, we must go back, way back, to ancient times, when rich Adriatic men could spend their days considering the answer to such questions.

The most well-rounded and satisfying treatment I’ve ever read on this topic comes from Epicurus, a 4th century Greek philosopher.  Why should you listen to him? Consider he discusses the atom 2200 years before British scientists re-discovered it.

So let’s get to it.
Firstly, what is happiness? 


Epicurus says that happiness is tranquility; existing in an equilibrium of avoiding both pain and pleasure.

Pleasure, for Epicurus, is inherently good and it’s derived from satisfying desires. Pain, in contrast, is inherently bad, and it’s from wanting, desiring and striving for desires.


So unhappiness is a state of wanting whereas happiness is contentment from knowing you have all you desire.  

Happiness is not a constant dopamine high, or a rolling index of adrenaline inducing experiences.

Instead, it’s basically chilling in a garden, contemplating life, content with your lot.

If you think of happiness like that, it’s easy to see that you won’t get maximum pleasure from satisfying just any desire.

Rather, the desire you satisfy has to be long-lasting.  If it’s temporary, so will be your happiness.

I can be momentarily satisfied from eating a burger or having sex for example, and we do need to satisfy those desires to live and reproduce, but since we all get hungry and horny again, satisfying these will never lead to permanent contentment.


So hedonism can’t make you happy because its pleasure is only temporary.  Most of your time will be spent in pain pursuing your desires.

Other desires that can never make you content are those that are neither natural nor necessary. These are the desires concerning wealth and status. They can never make you happy because they can never be satisfied since they have no limit.

If you make money, you can always make more money. If you become vice-president, you want to become CEO.  Money, more so than you need to fulfil your natural and necessary desires like eating, shelter and basic comfort, cannot make you content.

If you pursue money as a route to happiness, you will experience mostly pain, with short spikes of pleasure.


You will always suffer trying to fulfil the desire of being rich. Wealth unlike a stomach has no fixed point. It can expand until infinity, and leave you still wanting —and wanting is by nature, experiencing pain 


So if food and sex and money all won’t make us truly happy, what will? 

Friends. Contemplation. Discussion on science and art. Not being scared of death. Not being afraid of after-life punishment or reward. A general lack of anxiety about the future.


 Happiness is realizing that we have all we need right now and the future is nothing to fear 


Instead of striving to satisfy our desires, it’s a better idea to seek to reduce our desires.

By eliminating our desires they will be easier to satisfy, and thus our happiness and contentment will come easily.

Our career ambition, dreams of wealth, gourmet meals every night, a harem of hot women or men surrounding us … these are the desires that lead to pain because we spend so much time chasing them with only momentary satisfaction before we want more, more more.

If we want, instead, what we already have, then and only then can we be tranquil, content and happy.


How do I apply Epicurus’ philosophy to my real life? 

Every time I want to buy a pair of expensive shoes, I think to myself, is buying this shoe going to make me happy, or is forgetting about this shoe going to make me happy? Nine times out of ten, just forgetting about the shoe makes me happier than buying the shoe. I got happy by eliminating my desire of the shoe.


Do I try to save every penny until I own a home and then save every penny to renovate my kitchen?  Do I stroll the streets of the Annex staring at Victorian brick homes envisioning myself in them? OR, do I just accept that renting is right for me, right now, and that my kitchen, though old, is perfectly functional. Which will make me happier? Striving to be a homeowner or accepting where I am? I got happy by eliminating my desire to own a home.


So money doesn’t make us happy? 

No. Ultimately, none what we desire cannot make us happy. We can only be happy without desire. True happiness comes from learning to be content with what you have, not trying to get what you don’t have.



This blog post was brought to you by my $20,000 philosophy degree.


I want to improve my financial literacy without hating my life

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2 Comments 0

There are 2 comments

  • pretty much sum up my philosophy

  • Thoughts?

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