Question: Does Money Buy Happiness? Answer: Yes, But Not In The Way You’re Thinking

By Ryan Henson
Opinion Editor

The end is near. Just a few more precious, glee-filled weeks before the long dark plunge into the oblivion that is post grad life, or as some people might call it, “real life.” Some of you already have those silver and gold lined life rafts, sometimes called “Jobs,” to ever so tenderly hold your heads barely above the deep and murky waters of depression and financial ruin. Lucky you. For most of us though, the sensation is something like standing on the edge of a diving board submerged in dark, heavy, stinky clouds several thousand feet above a pit of shark invested broken glass. It provokes a slight wave of anxiety to say the least.

With so much unknown spread out before us, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important in real life. What is important again? There’s a lot of conflicting tid-bits of wisdom floating around the ether but here’s one that remains a guide for many a bright-eyed optimistic youngin fresh out of the womb of a liberal arts education: money can’t buy happiness. As cliché and self-evident as some might say it is, it’s still a little saying that I think holds a great deal of truth.

Money really doesn’t buy happiness, at least the kind that counts in the end. There are plenty of super depressed rich people languishing in their giant empty mansions full of crap they don’t really need. I mean that Ferrari doesn’t really take a lot of sting out of the fact that your wife married you for your stock portfolio and your kids hate you because you keep trying to buy their affection instead of spending time with them like a normal, lame middle class parent. Your V.I.P. membership to the country club won’t make you stop hating that soul crushing desk job where any semblance of real work vanished when you moved up to the corporate floor.

These are important things to remember since the mantra of the majority of college graduates is make money, buy stuff, make more money so you can buy more stuff, make more money, repeat. This process usually stops or slows down as most people advance only far enough and can’t really make any more money, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to. It’s this intertwining of the desire to accumulate more paper bills with various old dead guys printed on them and the thought that it will actually lead to a happier life that leaves so many people so unfulfilled.

But hold on, I don’t remember seeing very many smiling, content faces in the pictures of kids in the slums of the third world that I vaguely remember from my “introduction to poverty blows” class sophomore year. So money does kind of buy happiness after all doesn’t it? Well to a certain degree, yeah it does. Sorry Hippys, all those uptight business friends you used to lecture junior year about polluting their spirits with the oily stain of corporate America were actually kind of right.

An article in “Time” Magazine reported that according to a 2010 study by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, more money does actually lead to more happiness, but only to a point. The study surveyed 450,000 Americans about their satisfaction with their lives, day-to-day and overall, and also asked about their income levels. The study offers up a magic number of sorts: $75,000. This income is apparently what you need to make to live a happy, comfortable life. People earning more than this had no appreciable increase in their reported happiness while people earning less reported their levels of unhappiness increased the poorer they got. Unhappiness may be too strong of a term because, according to the study, it wasn’t that poorer people were necessarily more unhappy, in the deeper existential sense, but they were certainly more stressed, significantly more so. And as any college senior can tell you, continual high levels of stress can certainly affect one’s permanent well being. Having more money eases these stresses, since most of those that plague the lower middle class to poor are financial in nature.

Of course this all can’t be taken without a healthy, fist-sized grain of salt. Much of the studies findings are qualified with the fact that personal characteristics have a lot to do with determining how happy you are with your existence. This seems pretty obvious, but still it’s important to think about the role money does play in your own happiness. The point to take away from this is that money has a role to play in crafting a happy, long and healthy life for you and your future/current loved ones, but it’s only a moderately sized piece of the whole delicious self-actualization pie.
So when you’re out there with me in the great and terrible wilderness of that “real life,” let’s remind each other to not be such greedy bastards and just be happy with having enough to go out and do stupid stuff with our disposable income every now and then.

April 29, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 24

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