Economic growth is often assumed to improve happiness for people in low income countries, although the association between monetary income and subjective well-being has been a subject of debate. We test this assumption by comparing three different measures of subjective well-being in very low-income communities with different levels of monetization. Contrary to expectations, all three measures of subjective well-being were very high in the least-monetized sites and comparable to those found among citizens of wealthy nations. The reported drivers of happiness shifted with increasing monetization: from enjoying experiential activities in contact with nature at the less monetized sites, to social and economic factors at the more monetized sites. Our results suggest that high levels of subjective wellbeing can be achieved with minimal monetization, challenging the perception that economic growth will raise life satisfaction among low income populations.