Monday, September 21, 2020

Are riches and happiness partners?

Those of us who saw the Pursuit of Happyness could easily conclude, especially after how the movie ended, that the one way to attain happiness in this life is by being loaded with millions and millions of money, in whatever currency that suits you.

Of course, it might just be that Chris Gardner’s missing link in life was money and more money. The movie ends with Gardner as the happiest man, primarily because he knew money was coming his way. And in real life he truly is a multi-millionaire.
That should literally translate that he indeed is a happy man now, unlike what he was when he was a bumper and running around with his son, fighting for church space so they could have somewhere to sleep for the night or ride the train all night long because they did not have a roof over their head.

How does money and happiness connect, or do they at all? Every poor person thinks that being rich would make them the happiest of people just as much as a debt ridden person dreams day and night of being rich so that their problems are reduced. A lot of stories I read as a child would, in one way or the other, have the morale that “money does not buy happiness”.

I grew up knowing that money was the ‘root of all evil’, not that the love of money is the root of all evil. From the Bible came lessons that, because of Judas Iscariot, a lot of money is a bad thing.

That aside, the bone of contention here is money and happiness or riches and happiness. While many may argue that money and riches don’t breed happiness, some actually do believe that money does bring happiness.It certainly makes life easier.

Some philosophers have defined happiness as a feeling that involves “happenings”, that is external factors that can affect us in positive or negative ways. They say joy is more of an internal sense of well being, one that is not dependent upon that which transpires around us.

One may, therefore, consider the instances in their lives that they described as being happy. They may notably include payday, buying a new house or car, or a pay increase at work. All these instances touched you in a way and elated you, you felt happy. This might just be what they mean that money can buy happiness.
The argument should, therefore, be that money can buy happiness but cannot preserve it. Can money and happiness really converge on you and make you happy?

Jennifer Horton, author of “Can Money Buy Happiness?”, says the one place that money and happiness are significantly linked is when a person is unable to afford to meet their basic needs.

“There is an appreciable difference in levels of happiness between those below the poverty level and those above it. Homeless people in Calcutta, for instance, score a mere 2.9 on a 7-point scale of happiness, while multimillionaires in the United States rank themselves a cheery 5.8.”
She goes on to say that once people pass that poverty threshold, though, the money boost tapers off.

“Inuit Indians in Greenland and Masai ranchers living in Kenyan dung huts are just as happy as the high-society Americans. So while the Warren Buffetts of the world are indeed more content than beggars on the street, they’re not a whole lot happier than people who herd cattle for a living.”

If you buy that new car today and you are happy about it, then tomorrow you smash the car while trying to park it, your happiness dissipates. It is in this sense that we say money can’t preserve happiness. I have firsthand experience of money and how it may affect my mood at certain times. If I have debts that have to be taken care of and I don’t have the money to do so, it is indeed depressing; but once I get money, the burden is lifted off my shoulders and I am happier, especially after clearing some of those horrid debts.

I have, at many occasions, laughed with my 5-year-old sister because she so much believes money is all she needs to be happy.

She does not know that millionaires have been committing suicide for centuries. But it is the response I get when I ask what she’d do with the money that strikes as funny or somehow impressing. She wants to buy a nice house with splendid decors, the kind she shows me in magazines. It’s the colourful stuff that she loves that would make her happy, and she needs money to buy them first.

While money does make life rather easier to live, it does not, in itself provide happiness because it always comes with its own problems. For one, you can never have enough of it.
There are times when I am completely broke and need just P20 to get me to the following week. Then I suddenly come upon P100 that I forgot in a jacket some time ago. I forget that all I really needed was P20 and, before I knew it, the P100 was gone.

The more money you have, the more you want. Money can never be enough and that in itself creates more problems that easily interfere with the supposed joy that money ought to be bringing.
As Paul Erdman, the late leading business and financial writer, said, “The entire essence of America is the hope to first make money, then make money with money, then make lots of money with lots of money.”

It is doubtful that money and happiness can converge to give you expensive endless bliss because when you don’t have money, the problem is hunger. You need food. And when you have money, you have problems elsewhere like your health or even sex. With whatever amount of money you might have, you end up not enjoying yourself well because you start being afraid of death; it is a never ending quest.

A study published last September in Mexico concluded that there is more to life satisfaction than money.

The study, by Professor Mariano Rojas from Mexico’s Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales went on to urge that public policy programs aiming to tackle poverty need to move beyond simply raising people’s income to also improving their quality of life in other areas.

“Income is not an end but a means to an end,” said Rojas. “There is a big risk of neglecting and underestimating the importance of well-being-enhancing factors when focusing only on income poverty.”

Some poor people are happier and have a better peace of mind than millionaires.


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.