Friday, October 23, 2009

Money and Happiness Revisited

The idea that money can’t buy happiness has come up again recently. I’m not really sure how this idea ever got so much traction in our society. I personally think it's absolutely absurd. Now if someone said money doesn’t equal happiness, I could agree with that. I don’t believe that money is either necessary or sufficient for happiness.

I know that money isn’t necessary for happiness because I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie. They didn’t have much in the way of material things and certainly they were happy. Not to mention some of my happiest moments in life have cost little, if any, money. If you ever have the opportunity, try this: some summer day get an old inner tube and float around in a lake. If you do have money for a cold beer, take that with you (you may not want to drink too much, the whole drowning thing is not conducive to happiness generally). This ranks fairly high in my happy moment memory bank and was virtually free. You probably have similar memories: the perfect sunset at the beach, a rainy day curled up with a cup of tea and good book (which you presumably borrowed from the library) ---you get the picture. I think we can agree that money is not necessary for happiness. Next we must ask if money is sufficient for happiness. Well, we’ve all read the tabloids, right? Apparently the rich and fabulous are not always happy. Having yet to experience being rich and fabulous I’m tempted reserve judgment, but I think we can be safe saying money is probably not sufficient for happiness.

Now we turn to the real question though. Money may not equal happiness, but can money buy happiness? Of course it can! Money doesn’t just buy material things (though it does and they can be lovely and often make me quite happy. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God and Steve Jobs for my iPod). Money not only buys things, it also buys experiences. Experiences, the little moments in life, are where we find our joy. Yes, many of the best ones are free, but some of the best ones are most certainly not. Many of the most amazing moments of my life cost quite a bit actually. For instance, one year ago today I was in Stratford-upon-Avon where I saw Patrick Stewart and David Tennant perform Hamlet. Not only was the play, which I had the good fortune to see twice, brilliant beyond my expectations, but the entire trip was a little festival of happiness just for me. I happen to love England and Stratford is one of my favorite places on earth because of my long-time super geeky devotion to all things Shakespeare. This was my third trip to Stratford, but my first time going it alone. I did not miss having company. Being on my own felt like the ultimate indulgence. For me being in England is like wrapping myself up in a fuzzy blanket and sitting in front of a fire. On my very first trip I found myself overwhelmed with emotion because of the illogical, yet unmistakable feeling that I had somehow come home.

Last year’s trip was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken anywhere and I was happier those few days in Stratford and London than I’d been in a long time. Fast forward 365 days and I’m at work in the Pit of Despair, feeling oppressed and miserable. The difference? Money. Quite simply I don’t have the money to do many of the things that give me the most pleasure in life including travel. The more money a person has, the more choices they have for how to spend their time and how to get the most enjoyment out of life. I’m not saying one can’t be creative and find ways of enjoying things for less, but I believe the bottom line is that many of life’s greatest pleasures (for me the list includes travel, education, wine, fine dining and theatre) are not free. This does not even take into consideration the obvious fact that, if you have enough money, you can buy your very freedom--freedom from the job you need, but don't love. I've come to realize it is an absolute truth that money can buy happiness. And a Marc Jacobs handbag.


Kate, Dating in LA said...

Sing it sister. Money could have bought me a night courtside with my favorite former special agent, and once the shock had worn off (and medication take), I think a second or two of near orgasmic happiness would have been had. Of course, then it would have all gone crashing down around me in a miserable curtain of failure, but there would have been real happiness for a couple of seconds there.

Helen said...

Kate, While I realize that this experience would be traumatic for you in a whole host of ways, I'm thinking those few seconds of bliss would be well worth it. Has the auction closed or is there time for us to hold a carwash to raise funds for you??

Nick said...

Hi Helen,

interesting thoughts! I agree that money's capability to buy experiences is a very important aspect.

Overall I believe it’s not possible to make a general statement on whether money makes people more or less happy. Money comes with a whole set of new elements that may have good or bad impact on our happiness, and depending on how susceptible we are to every one of them, the conclusion will go one way or the other.

I recently made an effort to provide a more comprehensive picture of what these ad- and disadvantages are. I invite you to have a look at and tell me what you think!

Thank you,