For generations, society has been grappling with the question of whether money makes us happy. A scientific study published last year confirms what we have known deep in our hearts for a long time: No, money can’t buy happiness. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been tracking the lives of its participants for more than 80 years and is the world’s longest-running study on happiness.  


Money doesn’t make you happy – or does it? 

It’s easy to say that money doesn’t make us happy. But it’s not quite that simple: of course, money is a big part of our daily lives, and up to a certain income level (75,000 dollars in the study), it does influence our satisfaction in terms of satisfying basic needs and providing for our families. Beyond that, however, no correlation can be established. Our society, therefore, lives to a large extent in the mistaken idea that financial success can solve all our problems. However, the study showed that participants with more prestigious jobs and more money were not happier in their lives. The idea that you are happy when chasing money-oriented achievement pushes happiness into the future and further away. I had this experience myself: my successful professional life led to working through weekends, a constantly shrinking circle of friends, insomnia, restlessness, and restlessness, as well as being annoyed and impatient. I was constantly under pressure to achieve more success. My humanity and willingness to help fell by the wayside.  


What a fatal mistake because the key finding of the Harvard study is that relationships are the key to happiness. The researchers don’t just mean relationships between couples but also with family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. Even chance encounters can have a lasting effect on well-being. « If we take all 84 years of Harvard studies and summarize them into a single life principle, it would be this: Good relationships make us healthier and happier, » said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, and Marc Schulz, co-author. These results contradict the widespread assumption that material things, money or professional success automatically led to greater satisfaction. According to the researchers, these things are not unimportant, but good relationships in which people feel supported, valued, and not exploited ultimately make the difference. 



The happiest people live in the north  

The World Happiness Report 2024, published in March of this year, in which researchers looked at the period between 2021 and 2023, confirms that these findings do not only apply to the USA. Factors such as standard of living, health, personal freedom, and the absence of corruption were analyzed. One of the most important findings is that social support has increased worldwide. More people are donating money, volunteering, and offering help to unknown people – despite or precisely because of the experiences of the pandemic, war, inflation, and the climate crisis. According to the report, the state, companies, and civil society are primarily responsible for people’s happiness. The Finns are among the happiest or most satisfied people. They are at the top of the World Happiness Report for the sixth time. The top ten also include Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Israel*, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Australia. The unhappiest people are the Afghans.  


(* The survey was conducted in Israel after October 7, but largely before the subsequent war. In 2023, the country still ranked 4th). 


Success does not make you happy. Happiness makes you successful! 

Since I’ve been self-employed, success has taken on a new face for me. I would call it fulfillment or happiness. It wasn’t easy because I had to redefine success and go my own way to meet my personal needs. But « success is not possible without others, » says consultant Gertrud Höhler, « it is crucial for people to belong and to stand out. This eternal contradiction cannot be overcome – it is the core of human nature. To be able to define yourself as successful, you, therefore, need a good dose of self-esteem and courage. Daring to stand out from others and be unique on the one hand, but on the other, to fit in without losing your authenticity is a constant and continuous process and balancing act. For me, the journey has been worth it: today, I feel happy and successful.  


For more detailed information, you can read both studies here:  

World Happiness Report  

Harvard Study of Adult Development 



PS The Harvard study also shows that well-being – the more and earlier, the better – is demonstrably associated with a lower risk of future dementia. So try to be happy!