Can Money Buy Happiness? [In-depth Analysis] - Happiness Essay


Anyway, as you are probably aware, I have just plotted two dimensions in a single chart: my happiness and my expenses. This is exactly what I need in order to answer that one question: can money buy happiness?

Well, can you answer it already? I guess not! A scatter chart is obviously much more suitable for the presentation of these two sets of data.

This graph shows every single week of my data as a point, plotted on two dimensions.

If money would unconditionally buy me happiness, than you would expect to see a very positive correlation. Well then.... Where is it?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Distorted data

Even though the linear trend line is slightly increasing, I think this is truly insignificant. For the data analysts among us, the Pearson Correlation Coefficient is only 0,16. This graph obviously doesn't answer my question. It does not confirm whether or not money can buy me happiness. I am afraid the data is too distorted with noise. And with noise, I mean expenses that should not be taken into account in this analysis.

For example, I don't think my health insurance should be included in this kind of analysis. Sure, a good health insurance is vital for happiness in some scenarios, but not for mine. I've spent €110,- on my health insurance once every 4 weeks, and I can certainly tell you that it did not once influence my happiness. Neither directly nor indirectly.

There are many other expenses like these, and I feel like they cloud my analysis. There are also some expenses that might have influenced my happiness indirectly, instead of directly. Let's take my monthly cellphone bill as an example. If I hadn't spend any money there, I would not have enjoyed the luxury and comfort of an online smartphone. Would this directly have influenced my happiness? I highly doubt it, but I think it would have influenced it indirectly in the long run.

I would not have been able to call my girlfriend after a long day at work, or I would not have been able to avoid a traffic jam based on live maps. You might think these are silly examples, but there is actually an endless list of reasons of how a single expense could have influenced my happiness.

That's why I purely want to focus on the expenses that had the potential to directly influence my happiness.

Expenses with a direct influence on my happiness

First things first: I don't spend my money on prostitutes and cocaine, like I joked before. That's not my kind of jazz.

I do have many other expenses that I believe directly contribute to my happiness. For one, I believe the money I spend on holidays makes me happy. I also believe that a nice dinner with my girlfriend makes me happy. If I buy a cool new game for my PlayStation, than that game is probably going to have a positive effect on my happiness.

A friend of mine that runs the personal financing website OthalaFehu has written a thorough article about expenses that are directly valuable to ones value of life. Eating out is something he and his wife greatly enjoy, so they shouldn't really feel bad bout spending some extra money on it, right?

Anyway, if I could only divide my total expenses into smaller sub categories, then I would be able to test the effect of these expenses on my immediate happiness.

Insert categorised expenses

Well, luckily I have done just that! I have categorised all my expenses from the day I started tracking my finances. I have grouped these in many different categories, like housing, road taxes, clothing, charity, car maintenance and fuel. However, there are two categories that I believe directly influence my happiness. These categories are Regular daily expenses and Holiday expenses. Regular daily expenses can range from having a beer with my friends to buying lunch at the office and from a ticket for a concert to a new PlayStation game. Holiday expenses are including anything that regards one of my holidays. Think about flight tickets, excursions and rental cars, but also drinks and food.

I have created the same chart as before, but now included only the Regular daily expenses and Holiday expenses.

I have tried to include some additional context in this graph again. You can see the period in Kuwait that we discussed earlier. I didn't spend a lot of money during this period, and my happiness was way below average. Coincidence, or not? You tell me, since I don't know yet. 😉

Regular daily expenses

If you look at my Regular daily expenses, there are a couple of interesting spikes. For example, when my girlfriend went to Australia for half a year, I soon after bought myself a PlayStation 4. A long distance relationship sucks enough as it is, but being bored at the same time doesn't really help. So I decided to splurge on the newest gaming console, and sure enough: it positively influenced my happiness! Gaming became a great happiness factor for me when my girlfriend wasn't around.

There are a lot of other big expenses like these. My happiness was generally higher at the times when I bought a stage piano, a Garmin running watch and a tablet. It may sound silly, but these expenses seem to have directly increased my happiness. Great, right?

Holiday expenses

Now, have a look at my Holiday expenses. The effect of these expenses seems to be even bigger. My happiness has been incredibly high whenever I was on holiday. My holiday to Croatia is a pretty great example of this.

It sounds quite logical, right? Most people are usually happier on holidays, as it's something we all look forward to. That raises the next question: is a higher happiness the result of spending money on holiday, or just the result of being on holiday? I tend to think it's a result of being on holiday.

But in the meantime, it's pretty hard to go on holiday without spending any money, right? Spending money on holidays allows us to actually go on holidays. Therefore, you need to spend money in order to experience an increased happiness while being on holidays. If you want to get textual, then these expenses - just like the others we discussed - do not have a direct effect on happiness. But I think these expenses have the most direct effect on my happiness.

Additionally, another issue with my data is that the expenses prior to my holidays are also included in my Holiday expenses. There are a couple occasions in which I spent a lot of money on holidays without actually being on holiday. You can tell by the comments in the chart that this was mostly because I booked tickets or accommodation prior to the holiday. Did these expenses directly influence my happiness? Probably not, but I've decided to still include them in this analysis. I don't want to mess with the original data set to skew the results.

Correlating my happiness

So how do these two categories correlate to my happiness, exactly? Let's have a look at the effect of my Regular daily expenses on my happiness.

Again, there is a slightly positive linear trend visible in this set of data. On average, my happiness seems to increase slightly as I spend more money on the Daily regular expenses. Even though it's higher than before, the Pearson Correlation Coefficient is still only 0,19 though.

I believe the results from this set of data are more interesting though. You can clearly see that the most unhappy weeks in this data set occurred when I spent below average on the Daily regular expenses. The amount of money I spend per week seems to mostly influence the lower bound of my weekly average happiness ratings. Of the weeks in which I spent more than €200,-, the lowest weekly average happiness rating was 7,36. Even though the correlation is not that significant, I do tend to be happier when my expenses get higher.

How about my Holiday expenses

As expected, the effect of my Holiday expenses on my happiness is bigger. The Correlation Coefficient is 0,31, which could almost be called significant. A correlation of this size is quite impressive, actually, since my happiness is influenced by a lot of other factors as well. These other factors are obviously distorting the results of this analysis.

For example, I spent a weekend at a rock festival in Belgium, during which the weather was absolutely horrible. This weather had a huge negative effect on my happiness. I still spent some money on this "holiday", but the influence of these expenses on my happiness were clouded (pun intended) by the terrible weather.

That's why I think a correlation of 0,31 is very impressive. I have also analysed the influence of arguably my biggest happiness factor: my relationship. This analysis showed me that the correlation between my relationship and my happiness is 0,46. That's as high as it gets, in my opinion.

Can money buy happiness?

What these scatter charts reveal to me is that money does indeed buy me happiness. The true effect is hard to determine, as the influence of money on my happiness is almost always indirect. However, I do tend to be happier as I spend more of my money.

To wrap this analysis up, I have combined my Daily regular expenses and Holiday expenses to create the chart below. This chart is a combination of the two previous scatter charts, where each point is now the sum of both these categories. This is also the same chart that I animated in the abstract of this article.

The Correlation Coefficient within this combined set of data is 0,37! Quite impressive, if you ask me. This chart clearly answers the main question of this analysis.

Can money buy happiness? Yes, it can. But the effects are mostly indirect.

At the very least, it's clear that I tend to be happier when I spend more money on expense categories that have a big influence on my happiness.

What can I learn from this analysis?

Well, one thing's certain: I should not go berserk and spend my money on anything imaginable. As I've discussed at the start of this article, I want to eventually become financially independent. This mindset is about focusing on getting the most value out of my money. In other words, I try not to voluntarily spend my money on things that don't make me happy. I want my expenses to improve my happiness as much as possible.

So do I succeed in this mindset? Does my money actually buy me happiness? Yes, but I need to actually spend it on the best expense categories!

I should not feel bad for spending my money on holidays, instruments, running shoes, games or dinners with my girlfriend. Hell no! These expenses make me a happier person.

All this data will obviously be different for any other person. Want to know how your personal financing influences your happiness? Just start tracking your happiness. I'd be very interested to see a similar analysis of someone else's data!

Closing words

It will be interesting to revise this analysis after a couple of years, as my life continues to change. Maybe these results will drastically change once I fully grow up, become financially independent, get married, have kids, retire, become broke or a millionaire. Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine! 🙂

If you have any questions about anything, please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer!

Cheers!