Money Can’t Buy You Happiness…or Can It?

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo


I saw two status updates on my newsfeed earlier today.
The first person wrote “Money can’t buy you happiness.
A few minutes later someone else updated with, “Anybody tells you money is the root of all evil doesn’t fuckin’ have any. They say money can’t buy happiness? Look at the fuckin’ smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby.” (this was a quote from Boiler Room)
They both represent extreme sides and neither is correct.
I want to share some of my learnings and experiences with money and happiness over the years. Most of us spend a third of our lives earning money so obviously it’s important, but since it’s so personal no one really talks about it.
I’ve been broke – 5 figures student loans, credit card debt, and wondering how the fuck I would handle my 1995 Acura Legend breaking down. I’ve also had periods where I made more in one day than the average American makes in a year.


The Diminishing Returns of Money

A study concluded that earning $75,000 a year is the magic number for happiness. After that amount, making more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier. It’s the point of diminishing returns.
Money Can Buy You Satisfaction, if not Happiness
This reflects my own experiences.
I was beyond motivated when I started in this industry (You can read about my journey in The Rise of Ngo). I wanted to escape the rat race, I wanted to be my own boss, and I wanted to get out of debt. I had that fire where I could work 7 days a week and work 14+ hours a day.
After I started earning more than $75,000 a year, something snapped after a few months. By that point I was out of debt, I was my own boss, and bought more toys than I dreamed of. My motivation levels suddenly dropped and I couldn’t figure out why.
Flash forward to 2014 I’ve never been more motivated in my life. The amount of work I put into this blog is a reflection of that.
I credit a large part of it to re-evaluating my life and figuring out my purpose in life. Money was an amazing motivator years ago, but there was a limit to how far it could push me. Going from a $3,000 car to a Porsche is lifechanging, but Porsche to the next level isn’t.
These days money isn’t a big motivator for me. I mean it. I could make $10 million next week and I’m still going to lift weights, share knowledge, and be a degenerate in Asia.
I have to look for other sources of motivation. Instead of using money for myself, I think of how the money I make can help others such as my family. I’m always working towards self-actualization, and I view money as just a score.

If you want to evolve as a person, you need to evolve your reasons for living.

Money Can Prevent Tons of Unhappiness

My parents worked hard to make sure I grew up in a nice neighborhood and school. All my friends were well off growing up and I never really saw less fortunate people up close.
5 years ago I wanted to do more charity work and I volunteered to become a Big Brother. It’s a program where you volunteer to help mentor a younger kid, who probably doesn’t have brothers or a father figure.
My little brother was struggling. Every time I took him out to eat he went HAM on the food. I always made sure he had extra, extra food to take home. I picked him up one day and it was freezing in December. He only wore a thin sweater so I made sure to get him a proper coat for Christmas.
I talked to his mom a few times and she always complained about their financial hardships. There was no support from the father, she was laid off from work, and they were in an endless cycle of debt / loans.
That’s why I  hate hearing “Money can’t buy you happiness.” It’s a real asshole thing to say because when you don’t have any money, life is rough. She can’t spend time with her son because she’s working two part-time jobs.

“Having money isn’t everything, but not having it is” Jeremy Schoemaker (

Using Money to Buy Happiness

It actually IS possible to use money to buy happiness, but it’s probably not what you think.
The joy of buying a new toy for instance is fleeting. You’re happy when you’re anticipating it, and then you  “adapt” to owning the product and now you’re back to where you were.
According to research, the best way to “buy” happiness is to spend it on experiences. My years of traveling overseas has shaped who I am.
I remember throwing up after skydiving with my friends London. My confidence grew because I traveled alone and depended on myself – places where I didn’t speak the local language. I experienced deep gratefulness for my life because I walked the killing fields of Cambodia.
Travel. Do shit you normally wouldn’t do. Fall in love with someone from a completely different culture. Take lessons in your passion. Go to a great restaurant with your loved ones. It is experiences that shape who we are.
Another idea is to spend money on others. Take care of your family. Donate to charity. Being generous is a path towards happiness.

What Can Money Buy?

I view money as tool.
I consider time the most important element in life. Once it’s gone, you can’t get more of it. But you can use money to buy other people’s time.
I have employees now who do a burden of the work. Hiring a maid can save me hours. All these hours saved means more time for my passions, more time to rest so I don’t get burned out, and more time I can spend with my loved ones.
Money buys you freedom. I don’t have a boss. I can pack my suitcase right now and fly wherever I want.
Money buys you security. It’s not a good feeling to live paycheck to paycheck. One thing I’ve learned in life is that shit always happens. If I get a flat tire it’s only a minor inconvenience. But if you have $100 in your bank account, a flat tire can snowball into bigger issues such as credit card debt or needing a loan.
I don’t trust the healthcare system. If my parents or me get sick, I want to have enough money that I don’t have to depend on the government.

The Wrong Way to Spend Money

The worst way to spend money is to use it as a way to impress other people. There are too many people out there try to compensate for their insecurities by using money. Wearing a bunch of Gucci doesn’t mean you automatically have swag. Giving the bottle girl a huge tip for her phone number doesn’t mean you’re a pimp.
What is ironic is sometimes people escape one rat race, to enter another. There is always someone richer than you. There is always someone with a faster car. The only way to escape the rat race is to jump out of it. Wake up from the matrix.
Don’t give a shit about what others think of you because it’s your life. People are too busy with their own lives to be concerned by yours, so why waste energy worrying about what they think?
A few years ago I was in the club with my friends. We were only there for an hour and we were drinking by the bar. A guy I kinda knew said what’s up and asked where my table was.
“I’m just here for an hour man, we’re just grabbing some drinks.” You know what he said to me? “Really? No table? I thought you were a baller man. I make less than you and we’re living it up!”
I didn’t understand what he was bragging about because his table was like 5 dudes sitting around sipping on Coronas. This $30k millionaire was trying lecture me about money? “Don’t worry about how I spend my money man, lets just all have a good time”

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Use money as way to enrich your life and the lives of others, but don’t let it take control of you.
Let money be your slave, not your master. 

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                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

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