Money Can Buy Some Happiness…But Therapy Buys More

Money can’t buy happiness, the cliche says, but we all know that isn’t exactly true. We’ve all had the experience of money buying us an item or an experience — a meal, a movie, a vacation — that brings at least a moment of joy. And having enough income to live in a comfortable home, eat healthy food, and take care of your basic needs can go a long way to providing a sense of peace and ease. So money does buy happiness — to a point. Studies show that our happiness starts to level off after a certain amount of money — around $75,000 per household is the national average, in California it’s closer to $95,000 per household. After that amount, more income does not result in more happiness. Once you reach a certain level of comfort, the pleasure and enjoyment you receive from more things and more experiences doesn’t seem to matter as much as what researchers call “life evaluation,” or how you feel about your life and accomplishments. This measure can continue to rise with higher income and education levels — if you invest in developing that part of your life.

Psychotherapy is all about life evaluation and changing the way you feel about yourself and your accomplishments. It’s an investment in shifting your experience, your relationship to your achievements, your story, your emotions, your self. From a financial perspective, it’s an incredibly efficient use of your resources: a recent study found that people found dramatically higher increases in well-being from therapy than from sudden windfalls of money. The study even quantified it: $1300 worth of psychotherapy is equal to a pay raise of more than $40,000. That means that therapy is 32 times more cost effective than cash at making you happy.

Once your basic needs are met, buying more stuff or taking elaborate vacations doesn’t give you a return of happiness on your financial investment. But therapy can. Therapy is an investment in your well-being. You invest in your physical health by going to the gym or eating organic strawberries, you invested in your intellect by going to school. There is enormous benefit in investing in your emotional intelligence, investing in developing self-care skills, investing in shifting your relationship to your stress and your feelings. Relationships improve with better communication skills, self-esteem improves with recognizing that your worth is not tied to endless accomplishments or achieving perfection, career improves with increased capacity to handle stress. The happiness you get from a meal or a new gadget is fleeting, but the happiness you develop and grow in therapy can last a lifetime.