The short answer
Because they spend their money un-wisely. On the wrong things.
The longer answer
People with lots of money, proclaiming that it can’t buy happiness are implying that as of the moment, the things they’ve purchased have not brought them what they were looking for. But before we get to the longer answer, the first question is: Would you recognize happiness if it looked you in the eye?
To be able to find happiness, we must first define what happiness is for us; and be honest in doing so, because the quest for happiness is a lifelong commitment to ourselves (whether we admit it or not). And once defined, we would spend time, money and effort into having that in our lives.
The problem is that we confuse happiness with other concepts imposed by society in general. Social media posts seem to promise us fulfillment by finding the “right” person- and so we spend money on dates, clothes, cosmetics, gifts, and who knows what else? Our peers look happy when they acquire more money, increase their investments and save resources for rainy days. And sometimes, culture dictates that we spend what little we have on “rituals” such as costumes, decorations and gifts, when what we really seek is belongingness.
Colorfulifesite has identified two of the most confounded concepts of happiness:
1. When we believe our happiness depends on others
As children, we observed how adults appear to be happy when faced with acknowledgement. So we incorporated that information in our little minds and from that very moment, we started to automatically pursue it from people that surround us. Now, that is not bad. In fact, recognition is useful to reinforce positive behavior. Yet as we grew older, we started to let ourselves be defined on what others think about us: their approval, acceptance, admiration, criticism, etc… As a result, we don’t think twice in exerting all manners of effort to gain that esteem.
Similarly, notice how some would spend time and money on travelling or eating out, then show pictures of the trip or dishes, just to earn “likes”, “hearts” and comments on social media. This behavior simply feeds something toxic within, and the more it is nourished, the fatter and hungrier it gets. The by-product is easily confused with happiness, but one day, without noticing, we will end up living for “it” and internally killing ourselves in the process.
2. Confusing the means and the end
Money is a medium of transaction. We use it to purchase goods and services to cover our basic needs and when that is done, we spend the remainder to fulfill our whims.
So the system goes… we try to earn money to buy the things we need and want, and logically, we try to have more to be able to purchse more. However, somewhere in between earning and purchasing, people get caught up in acquiring more and more money, they seem to forget its utility. I would even go as far as dare say that there are those who use their saved money to buy more money (through investments, foreign currency, etc…), and so they end up amassing great sums of it, without any intention of putting it to good (or bad) use.
Money cannot buy absolute happiness, but it can produce a cheer or two
As Chomsky pointed out, the problem with the type of consumerism today is that it isolates people in tiny little islands, making them deprived of human contact. And miserably so, for human’s survival has always depended on being part of a society. This is how our species was able to reproduce and stand the test of time.
Perhaps, if we propose another definition of happiness, people can then seek a different, more genuine but simpler contentment. A type which would not depend on the ever-changing fad, nor on what others might think, rather, a happiness that would be based on associations, human relations, the potential to show and receive compassion, to give and welcome comfort, to experience love…
Notice how people coming out of theaters, movies, concerts, or even a gym class, seem less detached than those who just came from shopping. If rich people spent their money creating or strengthening human relations, they might have a better chance at finding happiness. Of course this is not a scientific law, it’s a humble expression of frequent observations. But, dear reader, if you have observations of your own, please remember to leave a comment on this article about what you’ve perceived.