Why The Phrase 'Money Can't Buy Happiness' Is Total Bullsh*t

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Woman with money symbolizing that money can't buy happiness

Oprah says it. Dr. Phil says it. Internet memes, wannabe gurus, all the way down to your damn parents, everyone says it.

Money can’t buy happiness.

It’s a platitude in the background of our lives, this supposed truth, from the poor-little-rich-girl story to the miserable millionaire tale. It tells us that no matter how high we rise, no matter how much dough we accumulate, it doesn’t really matter, because true happiness comes from a mysterious someplace else.

Money doesn’t really matter, this narrative says. Money can’t buy happiness, the supposedly wise scold us. You have to go after your passion. You have to find that mysterious something. Baby Boomers, from their ivory and cream towers of architecturally hideous McMansions, tell us this while they sip their wine coolers and boss around their lawn boys.

Except they’re the ones with the money.

Let’s get one thing straight. That good old American cliché that money can’t buy happiness? It’s totally fucking wrong. Money can definitely buy you a little slice of happy. Oh, it can’t hand you a perfectly fulfilling life. Money still, like the Beatles say, can’t me buy me love. But it can buy me a fuckton of other things that, if not actual happiness, sure put me on the path pointing in that direction.

Let’s talk student loan debt. According to Student Loan Hero, it’s $620 million more than American credit card debt, after all. And all of us were naïve 18-year-olds when people shoved papers at us and said, “Hey, this is a good investment, and you need to sign this or you will never get a college education and you will flip burgers for the rest of your life, plus it’s good debt, not the bad kind.” So we signed on the dotted line.

Now, in 2018, the average monthly loan payment for someone 20 to 30 years old is a staggering $351 bucks. No wonder we’re killing chain restaurants; we can’t fucking afford it. In 2012, 66% of grads from public colleges had debt (average of $25,500) and 75% of private school grads had it (average: $32,200). This doesn’t even touch the stats for graduate degrees, which are terrifying, from somewhere around $50,000 to up to around $160,000.

My husband and I both have master’s degrees in the liberal arts (an MFA for me, an MA for him) plus a significant amount of Ph.D work. Together, we owe over $100,000. Money could sure as hell buy us some happiness if it took some of that burden off our hands.

We always assumed that kids made us happy. But the American birth rate has fallen for the second consecutive year, according to The New York Times. Their top reason: the cost of childcare. Daycare costs are crippling many, or most, families in America. In many states, infant care costs only a few thousand less than tuition at an in-state college; it’s more than half of rent costs.

Got two kids less than four years apart? You’re paying more than your rent in most places, and spending a huge chunk of your income just on childcare. Money, in the form of either government subsidies or the chance to stay home with your kids, could definitely buy you some happiness.

And think about the little stresses you deal with every day. According to a 2017 article by CNBC, a staggering 78% of full-time workers live paycheck to paycheck. If a truck breaks down, if someone gets laid off, if there’s an unexpected sickness or a pet gets ill or the car needs new tires, you’re essentially screwed. Kids need cash for soccer or some other extracurricular? It means some creative scrambling.

Imagine if you didn’t have to scramble. Imagine if you had a cushion that wasn’t called Mastercard.

Money can definitely buy happiness. Or at least fewer night terrors about how to pay for said Mastercard bill.

Then there’s the cost of health insurance, which, if you have a job that offers it, leaks out of your paycheck, costs up front in the form of deductibles and copays, and costs your employer. If you have to pay out of pocket — well, talk about screwed. My husband and I were, at one time, dropping over $900 a month for a family of four. And they say money can’t buy you happiness? Money could have bought us less stress, fewer headaches, fewer nights of waking bolt-upright in terror wondering how the fuck we were going to pay our premiums this month. If that’s not buying happiness, I don’t know what is.

And it’s not like we’re sitting here yearning for more things to stuff in our houses, fancier cars, or boats (which might be nice, but still). Most of us would just like more time with our families. Instead, Americans, according to 20SomethingFinance, is the most overworked nation in the developed world. We don’t have national paid parental leave. 85.8% of men and 66.5% of women work more than 40 hours a week. We have no mandatory national policy for sick days, annual paid leave, or paid vacation time. Pretty much every other developed nation offers these things.

You think money can’t buy happiness? If money could buy me some extra time with my family, some extra time to spend with my kids, just a few precious hours: hand over the cash, bitches. The rich get these things. How dare they say that money can’t buy happiness.

Basically, you’ll never catch a Millennial, a Gen-Xer, or those Oregon Trail-playing peeps in between telling you money can’t buy happiness. We’re crushed with student loan debt. We can’t have more kids because we can’t afford it. We’re scrambling. We can hardly afford health insurance. We’re praying those tires last one more month and the transmission doesn’t give out. We don’t have as much time with our kids because we’re too busy working to afford their precious asses and the lives we want to give them.

So actually, Oprah, Dr. Phil, internet gurus, stupid memes, and Mom: money can buy me happiness.

Dole out some moola this way, please. I promise I’ll put it to good use, and by that, I don’t mean buying more avocado toast or whatever else you think I blow my cash on (other than murdering chain restaurants and top sheets).

Yes, the Beatles were right. Money can’t buy me love. But it sure can buy me some security. And in the end, you can’t be happy until you’ve stopped waking up in terror about how to pay your bills.

This article was originally published on