Money Can’t Buy You Happiness

Money can’t buy you happiness – it’s a phrase that we often hear when the subject of personal goals or dreams comes up in a conversation. Ask someone about what would make them happier and you’d be sure more money, bigger house, better car would be at the top of many people’s lists.  In today’s fast paced world, it seems that there is an ever-increasing desire to be ahead of the Jones’s, to prove to the world that we’ve made it in life. We often display our achievements by way of the latest gadgets, luxurious holiday’s and lavish clothes; there is also added pressure to keep up with modern technology and it’s amazing to see how quickly a new computer or TV can be relic within a few months. In regard to necessities and possessions, we have more than we need yet we still seem to want more, the goal post seems to be forever moving. A friend of mine was recently talking about his upbringing in extreme poverty, he had to be creative in order to entertain himself; often with the simplest things. Now when he gives his nephew a new toy, half an hour later the boy is bored asking what else there is to do.

The big question I’d like to ask you all is are you really happy despite all the money you may have and your material possessions. It seems that many are not in today’s society. No matter how much we want and attain it never seems quite enough; something is always missing. Our society is starting to take notes of this fast pace world we’ve created. There seems to be an increasing trend toward holistic practices and spirituality – a wish to have the simpler things in life. A psychologist once told a patient whom expressed a wish to grow spiritually that she took of all her clothes and look in the mirror. While this may seem slightly rude he really didn’t know the answer, only she could answer that question. In my own life, I have been guilty of attaining a wealth of material possession, spending money on something I didn’t really need, thinking if I just had that thing, I’d be happier. That feeling never lasted for long and a few months later I was already looking around hastily for the next big thing to buy. Needs and wants are entirely different and the former could well be the key to a happier more fulfilling life for you all.

A few months ago, I read an article in the paper about the psychologist Abraham Maslow. Born in Brooklyn, New York he was fascinated about what motivates people and believed that every person has a strong desire to realise his or her full potential, to reach a level of self-actualisation. He also maintained a focus on the positive aspects of an individual’s character. Maslow also stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, when one is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfil the next one. Maslow studied honourable people such as Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt to support his research. It was from these findings that he created the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Visually displayed in pyramid form, this five stage model includes five motivational needs in order to achieve self-actualisation. This is by no means a new concept in fact in some ways it’s now old hat having first made an appearance in 1943. However, after reading the article, I thought maybe this model could be even more valid in today’s world than it was back then; perhaps it is time that we all went back to basics in order to be more content within our lives, to appreciate what we have and available to us. There is no mention of material possession, wealth or gold at the end of the rainbow. Let’s study this in more detail and how it could change your life.

As you will see, the pyramid diagram is arranged in five stages. The bottom of the pyramid shows the basic needs, the first level shows safety needs, the second level shows social needs, the third level shows social needs, the fourth level shows Esteem needs and finally the top level displays self-actualisation. What do I mean by self-actualisation? To put it simply it means to become everything that one is capable of becoming. It’s important to realise that you must satisfy the most if not all of the lower level needs before moving on to the next level. The basic level contains all the needs that required for our survival that is air, water, food and sleep. Sex appears at the bottom because it is required for the survival of the human race, homeostasis relates to the correct functioning of our bodies and efficient chemical balances which can be improved upon further by healthy eating, exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle – excretion although not something we like to think about is a crucial sign that our bodies are functioning correctly. It’s fair to say that most of us will be able to move on to level 2 which is Safety.

Safety provides us with structure, security and stability in our lives. These needs can diminish anxiety and stress. Personal security helps bring order and comfort to our lives and can combat against external threats. On a grander scale, we have created laws and justice to address security threats that we are unable to deal with as an individual. Health is very important and in today’s world stifling to many people. Those of you who keep fit will know how it improves your mind and body, healthy eating makes you feel more whole inside yet we hear on the news of how obesity and unhealthy lifestyles are having an impact on our society.  Most people strive to own their own home and shelter is very important to us. After all it protects us from the elements and keeps us warm and safe. Think how vulnerable and unstable we feel when moving to a new house or being without a home. Job security is also important and although many people complain about work, we’d be lost without it as for many it gives purpose and a sense of pride; there is nothing worse than impending redundancy or being out of work and this can cause imbalance within the level. Lastly, financial security is another issue. Despite my mentioning about wealth earlier, the security but not abundance of money is important to look after us and our families, the feeling of being in debt is not a very pleasant one.

The third level is all about love and belonging. As human beings, we all want to belong and nobody likes to be left out or be alone. This is broken down into friendships, family and intimacy. We all realise how important relationships are to us ‘we get by with a little help from our friends’ springs to mind. We like to be accepted by our peers and feel a part of something big; being a member of this Toastmasters club for example. It’s therefore good for us to be a member of a club or organisation. The structure of the family is important and there is a drive particularly in the UK to keep the family unit together. In regard to love, everybody is ultimately looking for companionship and someone to share their life with and we yearn for intimacy with that special someone. Humans need to love and be loved by others. Without any of these relationships people can become depressed, suffer from social anxiety or loneliness.

The fourth level is where things become really interesting. Esteem is a big word in human psychology particularly the self-help industry and the lack of appears to be constant reason for people not achieving the life they want. This level contains one of the most important character traits to succeed in life, confidence, which is something that we are gaining here each time. Everyone in this room wants to be respected and recognised for their efforts and achievement’s. Everyone wants to feel valued. Many people take up hobbies or strive to achieve the impossible in order gain recognition and respect giving them a sense of value in return. Low self-esteem which is very common or inferiority complexes sometimes result from imbalances within this level. People who suffer from this often need re-assurance from others, needing to seek fame or glory. Importantly, the latter will not help a person to build this esteem until they accept who they are internally and I relate this to the women I spoke of earlier who wanted to grow spiritually. Esteem can be broken down into two parts that is recognition from society and self-respect which can be gained by achieving a goal, mastering a hobby or taking on a challenge. Think how you feel when you observe a room you have painted or fixed a fault on your car; it can be really simple.

The top of the pile is self-actualisation. This is the pinnacle of a person’s potential in life or as Maslow quoted “What a man can be he must be”. It is the point where this potential is realised. It’s important to say that the potential reached could be in any field, big or small, particular to the individual. For example, maybe somebody would like to be an ideal parent to look up to, be a coach for the local sports team, write a novel or become a motivational speaker. Maslow believed that to understand this level, the person must not only achieve the previous needs but master them.

More importantly I’d like to ask each and every one of you to think about this hierarchy of needs, what level you may be and how it can improve your life for the better.  Think of your life and what you have at this moment. Erase all the material things you have and desire. Ask yourself are you missing any of these needs? Are there any that require fine balancing or tuning, is something amongst those levels stopping you in your tracks? The most important person to take care of first is you. Are you treating your body with respect and looking after yourself in general? Are you looking after your relationships and being the best friend you can be or the best lover? If the answer is yes then we can move forward to fulfilling your full potential.  Take up that hobby you’ve always wanted to do and continue to do so until you’ve mastered it, always seek to grow at every opportunity by challenging yourself and take an active part in your club or local community. Maslow came up with fifteen characteristics and behaviours and I have chosen six of which I feel is most appropriate to you.


  1. Accept yourself and others for what they are.
  2. Be spontaneous in your thoughts and actions.
  3. Be highly creative.


  1. If you feel stuck in your choices remember to try new things instead of sticking to safe paths.
  2. Listen to your feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority.
  3. Experience life like a child with full absorption and concentration.

Maslow firmly believed that the need for personal growth is present throughout a person’s life. A person is always becoming but never static but remember this last fact fellow toastmasters. Most people only self-actualise to a limited degree, sometimes none. It is thought that only two percent of the population go on to fulfil their full potential – make sure you all make up that two percent.

Pete Rann

Toastmasters speech delivered circa 2013

© 2014 Pete Rann