This is such a multifaceted area of debate that the same person from the same perspective and life experience can sometimes argue both sides of the issue. There is lots of evidence–that gathered by studying big lottery winners, for example–to the effect that money doesn’t buy happiness, maybe even the opposite. And before you weigh in on the subject, here’s a challenge. As you know from my recently announced 110 Questions For 2010, I am a strong advocate of asking oneself provocative questions to find out stuff that lies deeper than the surface. So here’s yours now, which I am myself going to answer in this very moment:
Can you name three instances in your life when money did buy you happiness?
Here is where I challenge myself. And the first one is easy.
1. My very expensive cat, Hobbes, a Bengal–the new breed involving a cross between a domestic cat and a Wild Asian Leopard Cat. Though no longer with us, he was an amazing and endlessly affectionate and interesting creature. Now, my first two cats, Brandy and Lucifer, a Siamese couple, were inherited when a relationship ended. And I can’t say I got more pleasure from Hobbes than from the ones I got free, but there is no way I could have gotten him free, and he was unique in many ways.
2. A more current event: my recent purchase of gourmet imported olives. Definitely beyond a limited budget, and a delight each time I add a few of them, like my new favorite olives with Cloves and Cinnamon, to a salad. And countless delicious meals I’ve had in restaurants over the years. Yes, I could be quite happy without them, even during my years in prison. But part of what brought me joy in those years in a bleak and dehumanizing environment were the memories of some of those meals.
3. Courses, classes, workshops, and lectures. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on these over the years and can hardly think of a single one that didn’t enthuse and delight and inspirit me. More than worth every penny.
So how did you do coming up with your own list of three? The easier it was for you, the more it indicates how well you use money in your life. Money does not automatically buy happiness, but with a little imagination and a willingness to treat yourself well, it can certainly do so. And it relates to one of my favorite personal affirmations:
I deserve lots of money because I use it so well.
There have been lots of studies showing a relationship between success/prosperity and happiness. I think some of the dissatisfaction now present in the land may very well have to do with the fact that, due to recent setbacks in the general economy, people have pulled back on spending and are saving lots more. There’s nothing wrong with saving, but it shouldn’t be done out of fear that may not be realistic, and it should be done when it makes you happier than not saving.
In all fairness, I should mention that most studies do show that people in general are not any happier during good times than they are during bad times–except for those at the very lowest levels of income. When lack of money forces you to have two meals a day instead of three, or to live in a box instead of a nice apartment or house, money and happiness are definitely connected. On the other hand, one study showed that lottery winners were not happier than a control group. And happiness is probably a genetically inherited state in many cases, which means that some people are more disposed to being happy than others. This has been shown in research on identical twins separated at birth, who grew up in very different environments and financial situations, but seemed equally happy or unhappy independent of these circumstances. Personally fascinating to me are studies that show prisoners are not any more miserable than non-prisoners. Granted, like lottery winners, prisoners go through an initial period of dealing with this traumatic change in their lives, but then they get used to their situation and revert to their normal levels of happiness or unhappiness. I can attest to this, as I have to say that I was a happy and optimistic prison inmate for twelve years.
Though we may be predisposed to be happy or not, we can change our levels of happiness by conscious effort. By filling our consciousness with happy events, even happy purchases. Even more important, hanging out with happy people. Or reading blogs like this one, written by an extremely happy person who plans to get even happier as he gets richer.