It turns out, though, that wealth exhausts its power to buy happiness early on. Here's how it seems to work.
"The difference between earning nothing and earning $20,000 is enormous—that's the difference between being homeless and hungry vs having shelter and food."
After the basics though, there isn't much 'marginal utility' to increased wealth. In other words, the difference between a guy who makes $10,000 and a guy who makes $50,000 is much, much bigger than the difference between the guy who makes $50,000 and the guy who makes $250,000." 1 More money makes less difference in terms of happiness, and getting it takes up more and more of your life. Chasing wealth (and more 'things') will likely deprive you of the happiness you hoped to gain.
Actually, we knew all that, those of us who aren't struggling to survive. Once you've arrived at a comfortable level, you can expend a lot of effort in upgrading your lifestyle, but it's a lot of time and effort spent with little change in your personal happiness; it's time that could and perhaps should have been spent otherwise. Years pass, and we wonder when we're going to achieve what we've been working so hard to get for so many years. Perhaps we've lost track of the goal.
Got a goal?
As it turns out, while money can't buy happiness, it seems that healthy relationships can. Folks who are invested in the lives and well-being of others are likely to be a lot happier. Hmmm. Genuine interest in others, unselfishness? Giving, caring, loving? Those things are more likely to bring the joy we're looking for?
"Individuals and societies don't have the same fundamental need. Individuals want to be happy, and societies want individuals to consume. Most of us don't feel personally responsible for stoking our country's economic engine; we feel personally responsible for increasing our own well-being. These different goals present a real dilemma, and society cunningly solves it by teaching us that consumption will bring us happiness.We definitely need a better plan!
Society works to convince us that what's good for the economy is good for us too. This message is delivered to us by every magazine, television, newspaper, and billboard, at every bus stop, grocery store, and airport. It finds us in our cars, it's made its way onto our clothing. Happiness, we learn, is just around the corner and it requires that we consume just one more thing. And then just one thing more after that. So we do, and we find out that the happiness of consumption is thin and fleeting, and rather than thinking to ourselves, "Gosh, that promise of happiness-by-consumption was a lie," we instead think, "Gosh, I must not have consumed enough and I probably need just one small upgrade to my stereo, car, wardrobe, or wife, and then I'll be happy."
We live in the shadow of a great lie, and by the time we figure out that it is a lie we are closing in on death and have become irrelevant consumers, and a new generation of young and relevant consumers takes our place in the great chain of shopping."
Return to the Christian foundation of our society or face increasing economic breakdown, war, the chaos of violence, radical redistribution of wealth, and growing shortage of food and natural resources.
~ Frances Schaeffer, forty years ago
While I've never been and advocate of 'going back', there's perhaps that element of abandoned truth to which one must return lest they find themselves perpetually frustrated. Is there an element of the Christian foundation to which we might return?
So then, you can perhaps buy happiness ...
... for somebody else.
May '11, Samuel in Kenya tells me, "These 3 girls were rejected by their father after their mother died they are now staying with their grandmother. I did buy them uniforms; took them to a preschool at Miritini."
Later when I comment on the marks visible on the one girl's arm, Samuel says, "I was there yesterday at Miritini and asked the preschool teacher to take her to the hospital. They sleep on the floor, and their grand mother is poor and old. I spoke to one of the leader in our church yesterday to see how we can assist her. I plan to give her shs.3000.00 to start a small business selling fried fish to earn a living and support the grand children. The old woman lost two of her daughters who died."
Thank you Samuel, for all your goodhearted work. Update: one has lesions on her arm; taken by a teacher to the hospital, but can't afford the medicine. Another falls from a tree and is injured. They hadn't eaten in a couple of days, so she was climbing a mango tree trying to get some fruit. Hospitalized. OK for now. Desperately poor, and could use a hand.
Easy stuff for us. Want to join in? Ask me.
Easy stuff for us. Want to join in? Ask me.