Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Does money make you happy?
After we lost everything in the aftermath of the financial crisis, lots of people, most notably my mother, began to tell me I didn't need money to be happy. My mom, dear, devout Catholic that she is, could rattle off lists and lists of things I didn't need to be happy. And she correctly pointed to many nations much poorer than ours where people find true joy in life, without all the stuff that most Americans like to surround themselves with.
But who is to quantify what happiness is and what I need to be happy?
Actually, economists and psychologists have been trying to define and measure happiness for years. You may recall reading a highly publicized finding regarding happiness in the mid 1970's, when economist Richard Easterlin concluded that becoming richer doesn't make people happier. Just watch one episode of The Real Housewives on Bravo, and you may be well convinced of Easterlin's position.
But new research discussed in this week's The New York Times Magazine indicates money does increase people's happiness. It alleviates the stresses of daily living: buying food and clothing, paying doctors and dentists, covering the mortgage. But money also brings opportunity. It was crucial in keeping us afloat so my husband could chase his dream of starting his own business. It allows me to raise my children as I see fit, by taking them to museums and symphony concerts, and signing them up to play sports and learn piano. It increases choices, allowing me to choose the best pediatrician rather than the cheapest. It gives my family room to breathe and celebrate life with birthday parties, anniversary getaways, Christmas gifts.
For a while I felt guilty about complaining I didn't have money, because it felt superficial and base. After all, many people suffer things far worse than losing their money. I was still healthy, so I thought I ought to just suck it up. You know?
But this new research got me thinking. Somewhere along the way, the pursuit of money has become less than virtuous. Lots of us point to the rewards of working without mention of that crucial paycheck. We are really working for the human good, to progress society, we tell ourselves. Why do we do this? Of course, these objectives are worthy and admirable, but these days I'm feeling like the pursuit of economic stability is a sound goal as well.
What do you think? Does money make you happy?