Money Can't Buy Mental Health
Higher incomes are correlated with higher happiness. But money cannot stop all the mental health problems that get in the way of being happy.
A month-and-a-half ago my life — and my girlfriend’s life — changed radically. Though, in the depths of financial crisis, we made $120,000 overnight from the minting proceeds of Dastardly Ducks, our collection of 10,000 cartoon ducks. Since then, my life has improved so much. We’ve begun making a lot of much needed improvements around the farm. For the first time in awhile, the fridge and the checking account are both reassuringly full. And yet, my mental health remains a mess.
“Money can’t buy happiness” is an oversimplification. To a certain extent, more income is correlated with more happiness. A widely-cited study from 2010 suggested the effect capped out around $75,000 — though, given the varied cost of living across the country and inflation that has happened since, treating this as some magic number seems flawed. Especially since a more recent paper found that the effect did continue even for very high amounts of wealth. Despite the conflicts in the research, one safe takeaway seems: being at least financially comfortable can at least make you more likely to be happy.
In my case, I’ve long had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and the past couple of years have taken a hard toll — the pandemic, financial stress, delays to gender-affirming surgery costing me my job. In moments of calm, I’m surprisingly happy, but my brain is so conditioned to immediately jump into fight-or-flight mode. Healing is possible, but it will take time. Spending money might do things to assuage my mental health, but it cannot directly rewire my neurons.
Furthermore, it can become an ouroborosesque cycle, where fear of not feeling more reliably better yet creates anxiety about never being where I want to be mentally. Sudden success like you never had before can make you feel deep guilt about not feeling happier, as if you owe it to your former self to enjoy everything more. There’s that doubt of: if this didn’t fix how I feel, nothing can. But that is not true.
However, money cannot buy your way out of every problem — even if it can buy your way out of a lot of them. Lack of money can be a source of unhappiness, but a serious problem whose solution lacks a price tag will grind down even the richest, most successful person in the world. Medications can help take the edge of the emotional pain, but they ultimately cannot address underlying problems begging for resolution.
So many of the problems — including my job loss that predicated our financial crisis — goes back to much-delayed surgery I have yet to get, and now all the delays have given me that much more fear over finally doing it. Others were even introduced by the success we’re experiencing, such as a number of absurd conspiracy theories that can be ripped to shreds with five minutes of using Etherscan.
Though the project was always very clearly labeled as a project to raise money to help us, occasionally people can be very demanding about how fast we deliver more. There is also fear this success will fizzle out, even if all signs point to it continuing to grow.
Everything can feel incredibly overwhelming at times, but in many ways, I am fortunate, because so many of the underlying problems with which I am dealing can be conquered. In many ways, the overnight breakthrough success of the Dastardly Ducks remains the best thing that has ever happened to me, it just is not the end, but rather just the beginning.
In short, we should both recognize how essential financial stability and comfort is for someone’s happiness while realizing that our society needs to do more to focus on mental health. One cannot simply snap out of disorders and traumas, even ones that are treatable. But, while, if you are incredibly resourceful and lucky, you might be able to win a windfall of cash, there is no healing overnight, and financial security is only one part of what is needed for emotional and mental security.
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Kahneman, Daniel, and Angus Deaton. “High Income Improves Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well-Being.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, no. 38 (September 21, 2010): 16489–93. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1011492107.
Killingsworth, Matthew A. “Experienced Well-Being Rises with Income, Even above $75,000 per Year.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118, no. 4 (January 26, 2021): e2016976118. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016976118.