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What Do You Need to Be Happy?

When a University of Michigan survey asked people what they believed would improve their quality of life the answer given most often was, “More money.”

A man sitting at a table using a laptop

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim asked, “If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?” The number one response at 64 percent was, “Greater wealth.”

A University of Southern California study found that greater wealth didn’t translate into greater happiness for many of the 1,500 people surveyed annually over three decades. USC economist Richard Easterlin said, “Many people are under the illusion that the more money we make, the happier we’ll be,” but, according to the study, that isn’t true.

We know from other well-respected studies that fewer Americans are “very happy” today than in the 1950s despite having far more money, bigger homes and more stuff. In 1950 there were 3,000 shopping malls in this country, by 2000 there were 45,025. We have more money, we have more stuff but clearly, greater affluence has not translated to greater happiness.

Are there any circumstances under which more money will bring happiness? The truth is that if you are living in poverty, having more money will make a positive difference in your quality of life and yes, you will be happier. But once your basic material needs are met, many experts agree that having more money might be nice but it’s not likely to make you a lot happier, if at all.

The problem is that most of us just don’t know what we really believe about money. We can’t live with it but we can’t live without it, either. We think that more of it will fix all of our problems even though we prove month after month that aren’t very good at managing what we already have.

A recent gathering of friends at my home stirred up some provoking conversation. One person suggested that we have a confusion of terms. When people say they want happiness, what they’re really looking for is contentment—that feeling of satisfaction that does not go away once the carpet is a few months old, the car has lost its “newness” or the holidays are over. He went on to suggest that happiness is the result of a “happening” and when the event is over, the happiness goes away, too. The contentment we seek comes with satisfaction and fulfillment that are not tied to specific events but rather based upon things that do not change like warm family relationships, connecting to God and expressions of sincere gratitude.

I think our resident philosopher is really on to something. If nothing else he certainly made all of us think.

So where do you weigh in on this subject? In your heart do you believe that more money would make you happier? How much would it take to make you really happy? Or have you discovered a source of true contentment and found it is not tied to money?

I’d love to know your thoughts. Leave your comments below. I’ll compile them in an upcoming column.

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  1. Susan says:

    Money does not make you happy. People make you happy, having a purpose makes you happy, being healthy and enjoying life and being spiritual make you happy. Money just gives you one less thing to worry about. It is nice to have it, but it will not make you happy. When the time comes that people in our lives die, we really understand this. No amount of money in the world makes a difference.

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  2. PH says:

    I agree with the distinctions made by your friend about the differences between happiness and contentment. I think that happiness has a fleeting nature to it and, for me, contentment has come with being satisfied with “enough.” The concept of “enough” vs. “yearning for more” is something that many people probably need to contemplate 🙂

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  3. MNJean says:

    Becoming debt free certainly lifted the daily insecurity of making ends meet, and made us ‘happier’ daily. Being thankful for the ability to become debt free, keeps us ‘happy’. We are content, and those moments we can show random acts of kindness make us joyful.

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  4. Patrice says:

    My mother did a needlepoint for our 25th wedding anniversary that says “Contentment is not the fulfillment of everything you want, but the realization of what you already have”. This year, we celebrate 40 years of marriage and I can tell you this – when I look around our humble house and see what we already have, I am overwhelmed by the hard work and sacrifice of my husband over the years, and how happy he has made me. But the bottom line is, happiness comes and goes, JOY is deep-rooted and stays through all circumstances. Sadness and loss, joy and gain. It is all in the hands of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and I marvel that He loves me so much. It makes me share what little I have with others (materially) and I hope they can see the abundance of JOY I have in the giving of it and I pray they will recognize the Source of it all and want to know Him.

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  5. Louise says:

    We live comfortably, but with way too much stuff. I have been giving stuff away. Things that mean a lot to me (family heirlooms) I have been giving to the children. Other stuff I have put in garage sales and/or donated to Love INC, Volunteers of America, Salvation Army, and a local temporary shelter.

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  6. Stephanie says:

    This is a good reality check and hat off to DPL/EDC folks for this post. Defining terms is vital, and I was brought up short in the happiness vs. contentment comparison. Thank you!

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  7. Princess says:

    Stuff is just that-stuff. Cant take it with us when we die. My true happiness and contentment come from my assurance of my salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ! I lost my beloved husband four yrs. ago after less than 3 yrs of marriage. Crushing of course, but I KNOW I will see him again because of his acceptance of Gods free gift of salvation also. I also find happiness in my precious family!

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  8. Cyndi Wolfe says:

    While I am a firm believer that happiness is a choice, I have found a great deal of relief from stress in freedom from debt.

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