Money can't buy happiness—it's actually the other way around: Happy people ‘are more successful in life,' expert says

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The average salary that Americans say would make them happy is $94,696, according to a survey of more than 1,200 people done in 2023. But research shows that money can't buy happiness; happy people just seem to be more successful.

Tami Muller is a happiness trainer and positive psychology coach who has studied the science of happiness for the past five years. Through studying the topic, Muller learned that the hedonic treadmill of chasing happiness by trying to land the best job or make the most money isn't an accurate way to attain it.

"Happy people make more money, have better relationships [and] are more successful in life, not vice versa," Muller says.

"You can be happy now, and at the same time, you can save money," she adds. "This is really active acceptance."

Unless you're using money to buy experiences, get extra time or donate to others, it can't buy you happiness, social scientist and happiness expert, Arthur C. Brooks, teaches in his Harvard course about managing happiness.

Choosing to engage in practices like building strong social connections and finding a purpose that fuels you is what actually leads to happiness and fulfillment, not achieving a specific financial goal, Brooks emphasizes.

But being happier in life can lead to financial increases and success, Muller says. "Happiness is the thing that's actually causing us to succeed," she notes.

A 2005 systematic review of 225 papers found that being happy can lead to success in different areas of life including income and health.

And when it comes to having better relationships, the happiest people who live the longest prioritize and strengthen their personal connections often, according to a Harvard study with more than 80 years of data.

"We really need to focus not on how to be more successful, but how we can be happier," Muller says, "Then success will follow."

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