Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness
by Curt Remington
We need to change our priorities. Many of us Americans seem to believe that money can buy us happiness. Or maybe we think that all the stuff we can buy with it will bring us happiness. It might bring some happiness, temporarily. According to a 2006 Princeton study, moving from poverty up to middle class does result in more happiness. Beyond that, additional money doesn’t add much to happiness, and it may result in more stress.
All the work it takes to get more money certainly can. In the quest for money, many of us work long hours, leaving little time for family, friends and recreation. And people borrowing money beyond their means led to our record foreclosure rates and an economy that’s in shambles. The bailouts helped our government’s debt get to its current level, over $12 Trillion dollars.
I saw some signs of this back in the 90’s, while appraising real estate in an affluent area. Many people were building gigantic new homes with 4000 or more square feet of living area, including rooms that rarely got used. It takes a lot of stuff to fill those houses. Some of these people were truly wealthy, while others just wanted to be. They lived beyond their means, trying to keep up with the neighbors. We’d see homeowners run up their credit cards, then refinance their house, again and again.
The neighbors probably weren’t trying to get each other to spend, but corporations with marketing experts sure were. They really want you to buy their stuff, or take out their loan. They’re willing to start working on you when you’re young and impressionable. American kids see 40,000 commercials a year. By the age of two, they ask for products by brand name, and by three, they connect a brand with qualities like cool, smart or strong. Shortly after my daughters learned “daddy,” they learned complex words like “McDonalds.” Corporations are out to make money, and they don’t care if they turn us into a bunch of materialistic shopaholics.
These corporations don’t even seem to care about the impact on the environment. The average American uses 4.5 times as much resources as the average Costa Rican. There’s an index that measures happiness, longevity and environmental impact, the Happy Planet Index. Of 143 countries, Costa Rica ranked number one, while the US ranked 114. It’s not that we’re so unhappy, but our happiness takes a lot of resources.
Personally, I’m pretty happy, but I’ve definitely been guilty of buying and working too much. For a variety of reasons, my wife and I fell into working as many as 80 hours a week during the crazy years of mortgage refinancing. Even while working that much, I’d find time to go on Ebay or Amazon and buy something I didn’t need. Soon, it would go into storage. It was a good thing I had a fairly big house and a pole barn. During my 20 years of appraising, far too many of those years involved working long hours, with not enough time for much else.
Eventually, we both got tired of working constantly and putting our enjoyment on hold. We sold our appraisal business and moved to Bellingham, Washington. We downsized into a smaller house with a smaller lot and no pole barn. It didn’t hurt our happiness a bit, although once in a while, I miss the pole barn.
We found this area to have a healthy set of priorities. People seemed more laid back and happy. There’s a strong sense of community and caring. When I started shopping at Fred Meyers, I wondered how the cashier always seemed to know the people in line in front of me. One day, I realized that they were just that friendly. There’s also gratitude for this wonderful place and an emphasis on healthy outdoor activities and having fun, maybe more so than on making money. These are all values that people can embrace, wherever they live. On a trip to Italy, a few summers ago, what really stood out to me was the small cars, small houses and happy people.
Hard work can be necessary and even fun at times, especially if you enjoy your job. Just make sure to keep some balance, and don’t buy into the buying more will make you happy mindset. Some of the best things in life are free or close to it, like spending time with your loved ones, a beautiful view or a walk in the rain. You might even decide to work on your creativity writing, singing, playing music or starting an art project. And of course, you can meditate.