Thailand has been a global economic success story, transforming from one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, to a modern and dynamic nation, and all within the lifetime of the current generation. However, growth has been accompanied by marked increases in economic inequality both at the regional and individual levels. In this context studying how relatively poor people appraise their situation ('subjective wellbeing') and how this relates to traditional 'objective' measures of wellbeing such as wealth and basic needs is particularly relevant. This paper investigates the relationship between basic needs as defined by the Theory of Human needs (THN, Doyal and Gough 1991), material wealth and happiness. Specifically, we intend to answer the following research question: Are wealth and basic needs indicators always interchangeable when analyzing happiness determinants in low income settings? The paper focuses on seven communities in the South and North-east of Thailand with contrasting levels of access to markets and services. It challenges the common assumption that at low economic levels, wealth or income matter for people's happiness because they increase satisfaction of basic needs, arguing instead that wealth might contribute to happiness for personal or symbolic reasons, which are not related to the use of goods as basic needs satisfiers. Thus, it suggests that indicators of wealth and basic needs should not be used interchangeably when studying happiness determinants in low income settings.