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Can’t buy me meaning? Money cuts a quicker path to happiness

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Can’t buy me meaning? Money cuts a quicker path to happiness

In the pursuit of happiness, money probably trumps meaning.

big think,

5 min read
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Money can’t buy you meaning, but when money is short, meaning is the cheapest way to cultivate happiness.

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Which is a greater determiner of happiness: money or meaning? This question may take on particular importance if you find yourself closer to the “have-not” end of the spectrum, rather than being happily ensconced among the “haves.” When you’re a “have-not,” you might take comfort in the idea that your wealthier counterparts are vapid and materialistic, with lives devoid of meaning. Not so fast, says Elizabeth Gilbert, head of research at PsychologyCompass. According to studies, when you’re rich, not only can you buy meaningful experiences, but meaning becomes less important to your overall happiness.


Eudaemonic well-being arises from meaningful activities, while hedonic happiness comes from pleasurable pursuits. In a sense, money can buy you both.

Imagine how you feel when pursuing a significant, long-term life goal. The work itself may not be particularly pleasurable, but it’s imbued with a sense of meaning and purpose. Under those circumstances, you’re cultivating a sense of eudaemonic well-being. Now, imagine taking heroin. It’s immediately enjoyable, but not particularly meaningful. That’s hedonic well-being. In the short-term, hedonic pleasure might be closer to what most people would define as “happiness,” but if you ask people about how to live a happy life, they’ll likely tell you eudaemonic pursuits are more important.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Gilbert is the head of research at PsychologyCompass, a company that blends technology and psychology to help people improve well-being and performance.

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