Money vs. Happiness

The people of the United States are clearly among the most materialistic in the world.  This is a country where people believe they need a 5,000 pound, $50,000 vehicle to go to the grocery store.  Wedding rings are supposed to cost the equivalent of two months’ salary (isn’t she worth it?).  In fact, the very idea of having money and not spending it seems offensive to a large portion of the population.  And, in one of the richest countries in the world, it has become almost fashionable to say, “I’m broke.”  That seems to be the case across the financial spectrum.

An MSN Money article, Proof that Money Doesn’t Mean Happiness, provides some evidence.  The article quotes Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert:

“The basic idea that ‘If I could make more money I would be happier’ is true if you’re living in a cardboard box under a bridge; it’s probably not true if you’re making $190,000 a year,” he says. “Money does make a difference when it moves you from abject poverty into the middle class, but it stops making a large difference at about that point. In terms of happiness, the difference between making $5,000 a year and $50,000 a year is dramatic, but the difference between making $100,000 and $100 million is negligible, almost nonexistent.”

So why is that people who have large quantities of money seem to focus on getting even more?  After all, what is it that millionaires and billionaires really want?  One aspect that I can personally attest to is that financial rewards are tangible and measurable.  I’ve often asked for and received raises, knowing full well that the extra money would make no difference in my quality of life.  Still, I felt good about the recognition. 

If not money, what should people work towards?  Clearly, the answer will differ based on peoples’ experiences.  Personally, I think personal relationships and friendships can be quite rewarding.  In addition, working on projects that don’t necessarily increase your bank balance can be helpful.  I have several hobbies outside of work (most of which cost money), but I wouldn’t trade them for cash.  It’s harder to measure progress on these routes to happiness, but it will probably beat the “tried and true” path of accumulating wealth.

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