There is growing interest in the intriguing area where money and happiness intertwine. With data from around the world confirming that money can indeed bring happiness, more people can now confirm what they always suspected – that feeling of well-being you have right now is directly connected to your healthy bank balance. However, there are hidden costs that come with the pursuit of wealth, prompting a thought-provoking evaluation of whether the rewards outweigh the sacrifices, ultimately hinging on individual perspectives and priorities.
“I just wanna make love and money,” Afrobeats singer CKay declared in “Hallelujah,” indicating the universal pursuit of passion and prosperity. While love may be a complex matter in itself, pursuing financial success has been a subject of great fascination and debate, especially when social media squabbles often pitch different groups against one another. The notion that money does not buy happiness has long been ingrained in our collective consciousness; literary works like The Great Gatsby and Maupassant’s The Necklace offer compelling narratives that contribute to the argument that money alone cannot bring lasting happiness. However, emerging research challenges this notion, suggesting that, on balance, more money can indeed contribute to our overall happiness and well-being.
Research from the past decade suggests a correlation between increased income and increased happiness, at least up to a certain point. While it is true that material possessions and wealth alone cannot guarantee happiness, financial security can have a significant impact on overall life satisfaction. And if you think the research was based on data gathered from the West alone, then think again. First, let us consider a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2018. The study surveyed more than 1.7 million people from 164 countries and found that people’s emotional well-being, or subjective happiness, increased with higher incomes, up to a certain threshold, depending on the country. After that point, the relationship between money and happiness became less significant. The study also revealed that people’s life evaluation, or overall satisfaction with life, continued to increase with higher incomes, well beyond the “financial security” threshold.
A second study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 examined the link between income and emotional well-being. The study found that as people’s income increased, so did their emotional well-being, again up to certain income thresholds, depending on the country.
If you live in Lagos, for instance, money will get you a house in a good area, a gym membership, better, healthier foods, and other lifestyle benefits that contribute to your overall well-being and, yes, happiness. The results from North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa are generally the same. Various studies have found that financial satisfaction, or the feeling that one’s financial needs and desires are being met, is significantly more associated with overall life satisfaction than other factors such as health, employment status, and family relationships.
While these studies suggest a positive correlation between income and happiness, it is important to note that money alone is not the sole determinant of happiness. Religion, social relationships, personal values, and other factors also play a significant role in determining overall life satisfaction.
This brings us to Africa, where poverty levels are higher and the quest for financial prosperity is often a matter of life and death. One study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2018, examined the relationship between income and happiness in four African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, and South Africa. The study found that income was positively correlated with happiness in all four countries but that the relationship was stronger in Ghana and South Africa compared to Nigeria and Tanzania (and we thought Nigerians liked money). The study also found that social support was an important predictor of happiness in all four countries.
Religion also plays a significant role in shaping Nigerians’ overall satisfaction and perspectives, with different religious beliefs influencing their attitudes towards wealth, contentment, and prosperity. In Northern Nigeria, Islamic teachings emphasise the concept of “ikon Allah,” or “God’s will,” which attributes all positive or negative outcomes to divine power. This belief instils a sense of acceptance and submission to the circumstances of life, fostering contentment and trust in God’s plan. In Christianity, the teaching of being content with what one has is prevalent. Christians often encourage each other to find happiness and fulfilment in gratitude and appreciation for their current blessings. This emphasis on contentment is rooted in the teachings of Jesus, who advocated for a detachment from material possessions and emphasised the pursuit of spiritual wealth.
However, alongside these traditional teachings, there has been a rise in prosperity theology, or prosperity gospel, particularly within certain Christian denominations. Prosperity teachings emphasise the connection between faith, financial prosperity, and overall well-being, often promising material blessings and wealth as a result of strong faith and adherence to specific religious practises. This ideology suggests that financial success is a sign of God’s favour and blessing. This shift towards connecting financial prosperity with financial and spiritual well-being has had both positive and negative implications. On the one hand, it has encouraged individuals to pursue their goals, work hard, and believe in the potential for financial abundance. It has provided hope and motivation for some individuals, empowering them to improve their circumstances.
Conversely, this perspective can create a mindset where those who are poor or facing financial struggles may perceive their situation as a lack of divine blessings or personal failure. The teaching on contentment, which traditionally emphasises finding joy in one’s present circumstances, can be undermined, leading to discontentment and inadequacy among the less privileged.
It is crucial to strike a balance between pursuing financial prosperity and cultivating contentment and gratitude for what one has. It should also be clear to people that while money guarantees a certain level of comfort, well-being, and happiness, money is not the sole determinant of all-round fulfilment. Social relationships, meaningful work, and other factors also play a role in determining life satisfaction. And even though the relationship between income and happiness may vary depending on one’s background and individual experiences, at the end of the day, we all agree that money provides a sense of stability and control over one’s circumstances, which for many, is all the motivation they need to pursue it perpetually.