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.”
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.