Having money doesn’t make you happy. Remember this? The conversation with the jovial taxi driver and how he was looking to leave the country because of rising taxes and costs of living?
And this TED talk: money can buy you happiness.
They’re both right.
But how? The reason is simple. Having lots of money (i.e. hoarding it like the infamous tightwad, Mr. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol) absolutely does not make you happy. How could it? A lot of money doesn’t have any real value. Sure, you could fold it up into a paper crane or you could melt the nickel in coins and mould it into a small figure. Yet, money can’t hug you. It’s inanimate. Your bank balance is really just a number on a sheet or screen until you do something with it.
It’s what you can do with the money that can make you happy. You can buy nice things (depending on what nice means to you). So money has the ability to make you happy by being a mode of exchange for goods and services. But you will be most happy when you are able to impart some of that happiness onto others. That’s right. I’m talking about the warm, fuzzy feeling.
One day, you may come to realize that you will die. And you don’t need to be a statistician to work out the probability of dying is 100%. Nothing more certain than death and taxation, they say. So whether you go to Heaven or Hell, you’re not really going to take all that money with you.
And now inserting some of my general geek authority on how money and happiness are correlated – why isn’t it a straight line? Why does it bend a little? Well, that’s because there are other factors.
Perhaps the Hollywood caricature of the rich, lonely heiress in the Britney Spears’ music video, Lucky isn’t too far from the truth. That’s not to say that all rich people are lonely and unhappy. There are probably far more who are poor and unhappy, because of the increased exposure to crime, illness and other negative socioeconomic factors that are tied to having fewer resources.
Other factors like your experiences growing up, social relationships, and traumatic events shape your happiness. You can’t possibly expect someone with AIDS as a result of rape and winning compensation to always be smiling. It’s just not that simple.
What we do know though, is that there is inequality with the way money is distributed. We can’t really change that as an individual on a global basis, but eventually with enough drops, a bucket can be full of water. And don’t you just like that warm, fuzzy feeling you get inside from helping someone? Well bud, you’re selfish. But that’s okay. If, by being selfish, you end up helping someone along the way then that’s okay.
As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.