Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness

Money, Money everywhere, but not enough to go to space.

Money is an incredibly useful good, especially since the alternative is not society as it is today less money problems. No, it’s a society built on barter! Another useful bit from economics: as long as people want things from each other, trade will exist, and some medium of exchange is going to emerge. Why? Because the problems money solves are inherent to an environment with scarce resources, which cannot be avoided.

That said, there are limitations, specifically, money can only buy what is tradeable. This isn’t a legal claim. Sure, laws prohibiting trade exist, but you can buy illegal things. What I mean is money buys different things at different times and places. All of the money in the world could not have bought Napoleon a trip to the movies or to space. Yet by 2021, a company called Netflix offers unlimited in-home movie streaming for $9.99 a month and a company called Virgin Galactic offers space flights for $450,000 at seat. So, a major limitation to money is technological. Let’s save that for a moment.

Are you going to finish that emotion or can I have it?

Where does this leave us with human emotions? Human emotions are not salable goods. You cannot go out and buy emotions the same way you can go out and buy dinner. All human emotions must be produced onsite in the human body, and are non-transferrable and non-storable. However, that does not mean we can’t understand the processes that create “happiness” (or “sadness” for that matter).

In as much an emotion can be reliably produced by combining other salable goods, then money can at least buy some of the inputs into the production of the emotion. In that department, society is not left wanting for opinions. Psychologists, philosophers, exercises coaches, parents, friends, and self-help gurus are all lining up to offer you your very own happiness production plan!

However, the inputs to these plans are not always themselves salable, especially if they involve other people. Take friendship, family, and other non-exchangeable, but valuable relationships. Again, if we replace them with a production function, then you may find that money may be able to buy some of those inputs.

If we keep following this logic, where do we end up? I think it comes down to understanding what inputs matter to your happiness. It may turn out that sitting down and honestly answering this question is the only method that exists. If so, the sooner you come to terms with it, the sooner you will be on your way. Will money help? Yes, but not nearly as much as introspection. Most happiness production plans are cheap to try and feedback is quick and decisive. Will more money help? Of course, more money can buy more of all tradable goods and over time we can expect the variety and quality of tradable goods to continue to expand. That said, more money must come from somewhere. If how you spend an additional hour of your time makes you happier than what your time can buy, then additional money won’t help.

Happiness? Yes, it’s next to the rosemary.

The discussion above may seem unfulfilling. It requires investments like experimenting with various activities and assessing how your lifestyle makes you feel. Unfortunately, society has deemed it mostly illegal, if not morally reprehensible, to purchase immediate happiness through the use of drugs.

Many of the drugs that could make you feel “happy” are controlled substances and carry large jail sentences. The effect is that the drugs available both legally and illegally are of a low quality with well-known and undesirable side-effects.

Some of these qualities are a direct result of their legal status. For example, many illegal substances are sold to consumers after being mixed with other ingredients and without labels indicating their relative proportions. Compare that with the alcohol industry which is accustomed to informing customers how much alcohol is in the substance by volume.

Would legal status alone solve this particular concern? Yes, almost certainly, the number of examples are numerous. First, consider opiate-derivatives sold by pharmaceutical companies versus the black-market versions. The former lists the quantity of the active ingredient, the safest method of delivery, and how much to take to meet a specific medical goals. I don’t think that those qualities are a priority in the market for heroine.

Following the same substance overtime, it has been documented that the variety and quality of alcohol dropped dramatically during prohibition. In fact, the same story applies to TCH and its delivery systems as legalization and decriminalization spread throughout in the United States. Individuals can enter a store and buy prepackaged foods laced with TCH with the amount labeled in milligrams. The quality of TCH products and deliver systems have advanced so quickly that consuming the drug is inconspicuous and unobtrusive to others (for better or for worse).

Legalization would make drug-induced happiness from current options cheaper and of a higher quality. More importantly, if companies continue to expect the legalization to continue, they can expect to capture returns on investments in new and improved options. That is, we can expect the quality and variety of options to get better over time.


I think it’s obvious that emotions are not currently salable. If you work at it, you should be able to find the inputs into your own happiness. As usual, money only helps if you know what to do with it.

The closest humans can get to directly “buying happiness” is mostly illegal and will likely remain that way for some time. With a few notable exceptions, society tends views the convenience of or a reliance on drugs as morally reprehensible.

That said, I think it’s safe to predict that as society progresses technologically, emotions will eventually become available for sale. It’s hard to believe, yes, like air conditioning was hard to believe in the 16th century. Once available though it will appear obvious. In that universe, bought happiness will be as much a substitute for finding what makes you happy as much as bought child-care is a substitute for caring for your own child. I don’t mean that as an insult, but I do mean it seriously: in that universe bought happiness could become a political rallying cry as much as universal childcare or healthcare has become in 2022. Pointing out that I should not be legally made financially responsible for a stranger’s happiness will sound as cold-hearted as saying I should not legally be financially responsible for a stranger’s choices surrounding their health or family.



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