This is not a trick question: can money buy happiness?

The old and popular adage goes — money doesn’t solve all your problems. Money, however, does solve a lot of problems.

The thing with problems is that we often clump it all together into one big gloop. But in reality, there are two types of problems — physical problems and emotional problems.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — diagram from simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

The psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the idea of a pyramid to represent the different tiers of psychological motivation. When a tier is fulfilled, the person is said to have upgraded their happiness.

However, this is often a simplified version of human nature as our needs often run in parallel. Often, it is also at different intensities based on our circumstances and environment.

When you don’t have money to cover rent or nappies for the baby, your physiological needs are not met. You worry about the basic necessities of life and therefore have no time, energy or mental space to contemplate other things. Money is the currency that solves 99% of the two bottom tiers.

Everyone’s physiological needs are different. Some are able to be happier and more content with less than others. Some mix the different tiers together by mistake and use money as a means to gain fulfillment in the psychological and self-actualization tiers.

And this where people often go wrong.

Money does bring happiness — but only for the bottom two tiers

Physical problems often require physical solutions. Money is physical. It is able to be traded for the things we need in life like shelter, food and, electricity.

Psychological needs, however, are much more complex and sometimes require external parties in order to help us achieve a sense of fulfillment. It is part of our intrinsic human nature to want to be part of a tribe, to have a sense of belonging to something and a sense of purpose in existence.

Great workplaces are ones that leverage this need. They create an office space where group collaboration is used instead of constant a singular approach of constant competition. The job provides the money needed to fulfill the bottom two tiers while the human interaction and interpersonal relationships enable fulfillment of the psychological tiers.

That’s why people can make a lot of money but still be miserable — because their workplaces and spaces are not offering that psychological connection needed. A janitor with a sense of purpose and connection to those he works for and works with are more likely to be happier than a lawyer whose sole career goal is to climb the ranks and become partnered at whatever cost.

Both examples have both their bottom tiers met but only one has fulfillment in the ensuing two tiers above it.

Having money can help uncover your psychological needs

Intensity of needs based on fulfillment — graphic credit to Wikipedia — Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

When you have money, it gives you the mental space to pursue relationships. Money can facilitate relationships but cannot create the psychological connections needed. That is something the person needs to figure out for themselves.

When we try to use money as a means to establish and create concrete connections, it often falls apart due to the polarizing nature of physical and psychological. Physical is external and is therefore not permanent. It is simple, predictable and obtainable through a series of known steps. Psychological, however, is internal and runs on a series of spoken and unspoken societal, cultural and personal internal moral compass. It is complicated. Its complexity intensified through the necessity of other parties to be involved. The middle tiers are therefore harder to achieve, especially when we make the mistake of trying to solve it with something that is completely different and a total opposite in nature.

Money, however, does help uncover the deficiencies in the psychological tiers. While it doesn’t solve it, it gives us the opportunity to identify our shortfalls in the form of mental misery rather than physical worries.

Can money buy happiness?

Money is a strange creature. It is a provider and initial problem solver — but not the final solution to everything.

Money can buy physical happiness but not long term psychological based happiness. We often view happiness through a single and flat lens. But in reality, happiness is like light passing through a prism — the colors produced are determined by different wavelengths.

Having money helps and it does solve a lot of immediate problems — but it will never help solve your sense of personal security, interpersonal relationship issues, and feelings that you’re doing something useful with your life.

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Editor of Hustle Thrive Grow. On a quest to become a better human and documenting the journey in digital ink.

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