Kel Kelly

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Money Can Buy You Happiness

July 29, 2010 9:44 AM

If ever a brand needed to be repositioned, it’s “money.” Mention the word “money” and people think nothing but negative thoughts. Viscerally, most people associate money with something bad and always in the context of earning and spending. The economy hasn’t helped money’s brand image. It is a reference point in every negative story from unemployment to housing to the GDP. Money has been cited as the #1 reason couples fight and subsequently divorce. Hell, even BP drove the bus over money’s back. I can recite the line, “The BP disaster has cost the Gulf Coast region $23 billion” in the same way I can recite lines from children’s books I have read 1,000+ times — “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon…”

You would have to have lived under a rock to have never heard the quote, “Money can’t buy you happiness.” It is this very quote that sums up the negative brand image money is dealing with today. I think it’s time for a money brand makeover. I believe money can buy you happiness and some of the happiest moments in my life revolved around an experience with money. The difference is that it involved giving it away, not spending it.

About seven years ago, I read the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America. My daughter was entering high school at the time and the book was required summer reading. The book is about the author who goes undercover and tries to live on various minimum wage jobs. Needless to say, she can’t survive on minimum wage and and the emotional and physical toll it takes on her is extremely disheartening. Having read the book, I have not been able to encounter an adult making minimum wage without wondering how difficult his or her life situation must be. Since reading the book, I have started a regular routine of finding a minimum-wage employee who looks like he/she needs a break and giving them $100 cash. Of all the wonderful things I have experienced in my life, I can say aside from the birth of my children, my wedding and my nephew being declared cancer free, nothing has brought me more happiness than these random acts of giving.

I remember being at a dumpy iHop on Easter morning a few years ago and watching a waitress race around frantically trying to keep up with what was clearly too many tables to manage. People didn’t look at her when they spoke to her and if they did, it was because they were yelling at her for something. She looked so ragged and defeated. I walked over and gave her $100. She burst into tears and hugged me as she told me of the horrific bad luck she had experienced and how much she needed the money. I proceeded to open my wallet and give her everything I had in it. While it made me incredibly happy to make her happy, the sadness I felt for her situation was overwhelming.

I look at what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing through their foundation and can’t help but see money in a positive light. I look at Alex’s Lemonade Stand and tear up hearing Alexandra “Alex” Scott raised over $1 million to find a cure for the disease that took her life when she was eight years old. The positive stories about money are endless and I find them awe-inspiring. These peeps are motivated by money in a way that will change the world one penny at a time.

So how does money reposition itself? Good question. Perhaps like many brands it needs to create a new category and dissociate itself from the current category. Maybe there should be something called “Good Money” and it can only be used in the context of giving, not accumulating, hoarding and spending. Instead of today’s money which creates a terrible divide between people, maybe Good Money can be used as a bridge to connect us. My guess is that Good Money could buy you happiness, love and a whole lot more.

What are your thoughts on how to change money’s brand image?

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Posted by Kel | in Featured, Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

14 Comments on “Money Can Buy You Happiness”

  1. Jim Armstrong Says:


    Great post. You’re so right about the negative connotations that are associated with money. As for random acts of kindness, nothing is more fulfilling than helping others. Although I have just entered the working world fresh out of college, I know unequivocally that my most rewarding experiences have stemmed from giving back. Even holding a door for a co-worker or asking how a friend’s day was are small acts that I perform everyday. Thanks for the inspiration Kel.

  2. Kel Says:

    jim, if you have already figured this out and you are fresh out of college, your contribution to the world is sure to make an impact. deepak chopra has a great book called the “seven spiritual laws of success.” one of the laws is on giving and how you should always give something to everyone you meet — even if it is just a smile. imagine the world if the entire population adopted this law — pure happiness.

  3. Mike Torosian Says:

    Great write Kel. As I entered in my new life, I agree with the notion of money being negative and try to, on a daily basis, use it for more good. Life is too short. Smile everyday…in the mirror, to a stranger and even that trooper that pulled you over on the Pike.

    Your posts continue to make me smile and most of all, they make me smile.

  4. Kel Says:

    mike, you are someone i think of when i think of people bringing other people happiness. your acts of kindness are well known by all who are in your world. i know first hand. hugs.

  5. Jon Bornstein Says:


    Your writing not only makes me smile but also think – nice combination!

    Money is such a double-edged sword. I always try to stay focused on what matters (sometimes better than others). If you can pay the mortgage, ensure the kids eat well, and have a little fun – there you go. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting what you don’t have.

    The best thing I can do? Teach my little ones about value and morals. Hopefully when they’re my age (and maybe reading this post if blogs still exist then), money (specifically, the need/want tug-of-war) won’t weigh on them.

    In the meantime, I’ll be sure to read them Goodnight Moon tonight!

  6. Kel Says:

    thanks for the kind words jonathan! i have totally sucked my kids into my giving $100 routine. if we are going through a drive-thru and see a 70 year old woman working the window — which we see a lot — we always give her $100. my kids now make fun of how they are just like me now because they find themselves giving to random needy people. my daughter texted me last week and said “well i just gave $20 to a guy on a street corner collecting for mspca. congrats, i have now turned into you. sigh.” it’s a great way to torture the kids. haha.

  7. Deirdre Says:

    Great post Kel.
    It’s interesting to see money from a child’s perspective as well.
    I was in the car for a 2 hour drive with my two sons, ages 10 & 11 and to kill time we were playing the “What would you do if” game.
    My oldest son asked “What would you do if you won a million dollars right now”
    My answer: I would pay off my mortgage, and then donate all the rest to cancer research.
    They were blown away…they asked “wouldn’t you buy a house down the Cape, or quit your job and just go on cruises, or buy a really nice car??”
    It really made me stop and think that as compassionate, helpful and caring as they both are, I think I need to set more examples to show them all the different ways we can help people – even if that means reaching into their little wallets and having them donate to a good cause.

  8. Kel Says:

    deirdre, something tells me as adults, the boys would know to do the same thing. it can be too much to process when you are at an age where you can’t see beyond how things affect you at that moment in time. i’m sure they have your same heart and it will navigate them well when they get older.

  9. Frank Says:


    Corporate greed has a lot to do with the burden the average Joe (or Josephine) has to bear in the world we live in today. I am all for Capitalism, however there is something incredibly great to be said for companies that forego a penny or two on their quarterly earnings to take care of employees (with benefits, 401k matching, daycare), and for that matter corporate cause related activities in the local community. A great example is Target, with their 5% gives back program…it almost has no impact to their bottom line, yet has incredible impact to the local communities they have stores. Imagine if every major company in America did this, the results would be profound, especially for the minimum wage worker.

    I love the idea of a Good Money fund. Perhaps Wall Street needs to place some index on corporations that take care of employees and give back to the local community that make that companies stock more attractive (wait a pig just flew by my window).

    I’ve been brought up to help those that need me…whatever that means, financially, emotionally or physically. I am a big believer in what you send out comes back to you ten-fold. To your point, there is no better way to feel better than helping others.

  10. chris moline, LEED AP Says:

    Hey Kel,
    Zig Ziglar said “Money can’t buy happiness… but it sure can put you in a better bargaining position!”
    I’m right with ya. It’s when folks fall in love with it that money gets a bad rap.
    Nice, thoughtful post.
    Yer cool

  11. Kel Says:

    frank, i love your idea of wall street identifying a corporate index of some sort for “good money.” be careful though, that pig is doing a 120 mph and could kill you if it hit you. tee hee.

  12. Kel Says:

    chris, i feel like zig ziglar stole my naming convention. haha. unfortunately, zig is right in the short term. however, karma will always intervene to make sure life is fair on all fronts. no deed goes unnoticed, no debt goes unpaid. fo’ shizz!

  13. Jenn O'Meara Says:

    Kel -

    Another terrific post. Too bad you can’t be cloned. There need to be more corporate leaders like you.

    My friend and I had a similar discussion last night. Sometimes people forget what it is like to not have enough money to buy a cup of coffee. While many people who make it to the top came from a comfortable childhood, I do believe that a slew of leaders (and celebs and other people with means) forget what it is like to want for something.

    Unfortunately, too often the script today is that want means lazy. Society and the media seem to feast on tagging people as “lazy” if they receive a “hand out,” but we seem to forget that there are too many working poor. Take the deadbeats out of the equation and let’s start focusing on how we can all, together, make it more acceptable to not have such crazy variances in income.

  14. Kel Says:

    jenn, if you havent read it already, grab a copy of “nickle and dimed: on (not) getting by in america.” your points are amplified throughout the book. the author speaks so much of losing herself as she became invisible to others. incredibly profound insight. if everyone read this book, i think the empathy level across the world would grow exponentially.

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