Money can’t buy happiness—so what’s the secret?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti
Updated January 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We might have all heard the saying "money can't buy happiness," but it can still be a hard lesson to learn. Many times, it might seem like if only we had more money, we would be able to have more of the things that we want in life (possibly without the stress). 

However, one quick look at the tabloids can show us that that generally isn't true. You might see story after story of actors, actresses, sports stars, and others who might seem to have endless amounts of money, experiencing the same pain and hurt as the rest of us.

Below, we’re exploring possible hidden “sources” of happiness that we can chase in life, all of which can be free—possibly helping you to enjoy a higher overall quality of life.

Need help finding joy in your life?

Tip #1: Don’t worry about pleasing everyone

It can be hard to be happy if you are trying to please everyone else. Many people might fall for the idea that they will be happy if they can make the people around them happy. This can often start in childhood. 

For example: You might want to please your parents and do anything you can to make them happy. As you grow up, you might feel as if others put this same pressure on you, such as your.  coach, a teacher, a boss, coworkers, friends and significant others. You will generally never be happy if you are living like this.

If you find yourself aligning with this experience, it can be helpful to remember that people's wants might continue to change over time—and many people can have unrealistic expectations. It can be easy to make yourself miserable if you are working to keep everyone else happy.

Instead, you can work to figure out who you are and what you like to do. This doesn't necessarily mean that you will never do something nice for someone else, but it might mean that you will not allow your happiness to come from someone else. You can find joy in discovering who you are, and making changes that you feel are in line with who you want to be—not who someone else wants you to be.

Tip #2: Focus on the good things in life

Life can be full of trials. If you think that you can't be happy until everything is right in your life, you might have to wait for a while! Many might choose to focus on the things that are good in your life right now, instead of the things that you wish were there.

Not sure where to start? You can spend time each day purposefully thinking about what is good around you. You could be thankful for things like being in good health, having a job and food to eat. You could be thankful for your family and your friends. Or, your thankfulness can also stem from more basic sources, such as being thankful for the blue sky, white clouds and the flowers that are growing on the side of the road.

Many might find joy simply from believing that there are a lot of things that we have to be thankful for in this life—even when there are some things that aren't going right.

Tip #3: Keep a list

One way to find joy in your life is to keep a list of the things that you are grateful for. Every day, you can add something to the list. Over time, you may begin to see how blessed you are even when things seem mundane or might not be going well.

Tip #4: Make wise decisions

Poor decision-making can come with consequences. It can be hard to be happy when you are suffering from the natural consequences of your own decisions, or from the effects of the decisions of others.

Generally speaking, it can be easier to make a wise decision from the start than it is to recover from a poor choice. Choosing to make the right decisions, no matter how hard they can be at the time, can be a way to foster long-term happiness and joy. If you’re not sure where to start with this, you can carefully think through your actions and what the possible consequences are in the context of a specific situation.

 A trusted mentor or a friend can be helpful here as well. 

Tip #5: Learn to control your emotions

Allowing yourself to be controlled by your emotions can lead to unhappiness in the long run. However, this can be a difficult lesson to learn. Our emotions may feel particularly overwhelming at times—but change can be possible.

To make a change in this area, it can be helpful to learn how to acknowledge your emotions, while simultaneously controlling your behavior through your thoughts and actions. This process can begin by learning to control your thoughts and what you spend your time thinking about. When you can do this well, you can look past your emotions and make wise decisions. 

Mastering this skill can help you to live a more stable and consistent life, which can make you happier in the long run.

Need help finding joy in your life?

Tip #6: Surround yourself with people that make you smile

You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine—and there can be a lot of truth to that statement. If you want to be happy, you might choose to spend time with positive people that make you smile. 

While this may not always be possible, you can begin using this tip by limiting the amount of time that you spend with negative people. This can include negative friends and family. Boundaries can be a helpful tool to use as you work to align yourself with people who uphold your values and beliefs. 

Once you have limited your time with negative people, you can more effectively look for positive people to spend time with. 

Tip #7: Don't be afraid to ask for help (via online therapy) 

It can be helpful to intentionally seek joy for a happier, healthier life. However, some may feel that they are consistently in low places, no matter what efforts are made. This feeling can indicate underlying depression or anxiety disorders, which can be addressed by a counselor via in-person or online therapy. 

Online therapy can be an effective way to work through depression and many other health conditions. Online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), for example, can offer a way to process negative thoughts and develop strategies for more positive thinking. 
BetterHelp can offer a match with an affordable licensed therapist. They can meet with you at a time that works best with your schedule, and you generally don't need to leave home. All you might need is a computer, tablet or smartphone and an internet connection.  

Is online therapy effective? 

Depression can feel overwhelming. However, online therapy can be an effective way to resolve symptoms for many. Cited research per the National Council on Aging has found that online therapy offers comparable benefits to what would be observed with in-person sessions—and that positive effects generally extended across all age groups.


While many might believe money can buy happiness, this isn’t generally the case. However, there are many ways that you can pursue joy in your daily life—such as maintaining an attitude of gratitude, seeking connection with people that align with your values and finding outside sources of support. Online therapy can be helpful if you believe that depression or another mental health condition could be undermining your efforts. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need. 

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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