Positive Psychology. Wealth and Joy


Does wealth, money, or material possession lead to happiness? This is a question most people around the world including scientists have been asking every now and then (Burns, Marshall, Velasquez & Weill, n.d.). Baumgardner and Crothers (2009) propose that generally, people could be of two minds depending on what they think of the relationship between money and happiness. However, only a few believe that money could buy happiness. However, various researches have proved this otherwise.

Money and Well Being

The well-being of people is determined by a combination of factors. Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that money directly influences or is proportionally related to an individual’s well-being. There are a number of determinants of people’s well-being that are not economic in nature, including democracy and respect for human rights (Diener & Seligman, 2004). The level of education, health, and religion may also play a role in the well-being of individuals. Moghaddam (2008) concludes in his research on these factors by implying that people with a higher level of education, good health, financial security as well as religious affiliation, are happier on average. At the same time, researchers have discovered that people generally rank money among the least important contributors to life’s satisfaction (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2009). Therefore, it is noteworthy to point out that money alone does not contribute to the well-being of the people, it is actually a combination of factors including social, psychological, religious, political, and financial. There are various categories of people around the world that have one or more of the above factors but are not happy. For instance, most of the politicians are well-off financially in most parts of the world, but when it comes to specific individual’s well-being, some of them are happier in their lifestyle, some are not happy while the majority of the remaining still feel that they lack something in their life to be happy. This is despite the fact that they are well-off financially and have political influence. But since they lack a variety of other important determinants of well-being, they don’t live happily.

Social factors and happiness

Social factors are among the most common determinants of well-being. Deriving his evidence from U.S survey data, Moghaddam (2008) gives the following conclusions:

  • A good portion of happiness in the U.S can be explained by non-pecuniary factors including religious and emotional.
  • Financial security plays a great role in the general happiness equation.
  • The general contribution of absolute income level to the overall happiness is very minimal. This is despite the fact that the research was conducted during one of the high-income periods in the U.S.
  • Socio-economic, non-pecuniary as well as pecuniary explanatory variables are complementary and not substitutable when it comes to the determination of happiness.
  • The overall satisfaction in life is a result of combined individual effects.
  • When religious and emotional factors are included in the model, the pursuit of more money does not lead to an increase in the possibility of happiness.

Social factors play a significant role in determining happiness in life. Religion can be categorized as one of these social factors in that when people assemble for religious functions, they tend to morally support each other through sharing the challenges they experience in their day-to-day activities. They offer each other a possible solution to such challenges and the well-off financially can go to the extent of offering material support to alleviate the problem. In the long run, religion also plays an important role in contributing to happiness through emotional support. Burroughs and Rindfleisch (2002) note that while acquiring and possessing material objects is negatively linked to well-being, other important determinants or life values play a role.

Materialism and Well-being

Most of the research findings portray the relationship between materialism and well-being in a negative manner. However, some researchers have tried to contest these findings and argue that such a negative correlation could just be a result of the political agenda of the researchers of materialism (Wright & Larsen, 1993). They argue that the political ideologies of researchers influence their findings or output. The self-creation capacity via appropriation of resources provided by the market including services, goods, and experiences tends to determine an individual’s well-being (Weinberger & Wallendorf, 2008). Materialism influences the well-being of people depending on the way an individual perceives it. Ahuvia and Wong (1995) reviewed different perceptions of materialism among scientists. While some describe it as a personality trait, others view it as a value. Those who view it as a behavior, portray it in such a negative manner as to conclude that it is not good for the well-being of the people. In contrast, those who perceive it as a value believe that it is generally important to own material possessions for a person’s well-being. Even in these cases, both groups agree that materialism is a person’s attachment to worldly possessions. In this regard, the contribution of materialism to the well-being of people could generally be argued under these two perspectives. If viewed as a behavioral attribute, it is characterized by possessiveness, non-generosity, and envy (Ahuvia & Wong, 1995). Hence under this category, materialism can be said to have a negative contribution to people’s well-being. This is because the behavioral attributes associated with it are not good for the well-being of the people. However, when viewed as a value, materialism means generally getting more objects or possessions to allow for acquisitiveness as the main target in life (Ahuvia & Wong, 1995). With this second perspective of materialism, one can argue that there is nothing negative about it. In real-life situations, having more than one can consume is generally good for an individual’s well-being. Taking an example of poor households, particularly in developing countries, their well-being is not safeguarded due to insufficient goods and services.

Boven (2005) brings the materialism debate to a different perspective. According to him, allocation of discretionary resources to experiences in life brings about happiness to people than allocating the same resources to material possessions. He further adds that the pursuit of material possessions and the resulting life dissatisfaction results in psychological disorders.


Based on the arguments raised in this paper, it would be possible to give some concluding observations on the aspect of materialism and well-being. First, the arguments on materialism have brought about various perspectives to this aspect and this could be the reason for different perceptions on this matter. In general, as argued in this document, materialism could bring happiness and at the same time misery in life. If looking at a value point of view, it brings happiness (Kasser, n.d.), but when perceived as a behavioral trait then the opposite would result. Baumgardner and Crothers (2009) observe that there is a very small relationship between income, wealth, and well-being. This could be as a result of the determinants of happiness and well-being discussed in this document. As noted earlier, well being of the people is determined by a combination of factors and not just money and wealth. Social factors also play a significant role in this equation.


Ahuvia, A. & Wong, N. (1995). Materialism: Origins and Implications for Personal Well-Being. University of Michigan. Web.

Baumgardner, S.R., & Crothers, M. K. (2009). Positive Psychology. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Boven, L.V. (2005). Experientialism, Materialism, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Review of General Psychology, 9 (2), 132–142. Web.

Burns, C., Marshall, H., Velasquez, J. & Weill, I. (n.d). Happiness and Wealth: Does Wealth Lead to Happiness, Happiness Lead to Wealth, or Does a Reciprocal Relationship Exist Between the Two? Web.

Burroughs, J.E. & Rindfleisch, A. (2002). Materialism and Well-Being: A Conflicting Values Perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 348-360. Web.

Diener, E. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being. Psychological Science in the public Interest, 5 (1), 1-32.

Kasser, T. (n.d). The high Price of Materialism. London, England. The MIT Press. Web.

Moghaddam, M. (2008). Happiness, Faith, Friends, and Fortune—Empirical Evidence from the 1998 US Survey Data. J. Happiness Stud., 9, 577–587. Web.

Weinberger, M.F. & Wallendorf, M. Symposia Summary: Having vs. Doing: Materialism, Experientialism, and the Experience of Materiality. Advances in Consumer Research. 35, 257-261. Web.

Wright, N.D. (1993). Materialism and Life satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 6, 158-165. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. "Positive Psychology. Wealth and Joy." September 15, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/positive-psychology-wealth-and-joy/.