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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. Ron 'n Loni Oliver says:

    It would be much easier to be happy if I had my health. That struggle is tearing me down, but I realize it’s possible to be content in whatever condition you find yourself. The Apostle Paul is the gold standard on that score. Alas, I have not achieved that level. More money would ease the constraints we are dealing with and give us more freedom to enjoy life and be free of worry for tomorrow, so, yes, in our case it would be a boost. But once the basics and a few frills have been provided, friends, family and achievement are the things that truly enrich lives.

    Reply
  2. BethinCLE says:

    Love of God, neighbor and self are at the very top. I think having emotional stability and healthy self esteem are part of the equation also. I think many of us spend beyond our means because we lack many of these or do not have strong faith in them. We shop to fill an empty void within ourselves. That void should be filled with the above. Some of the poorest people on this earth do not suffer from depression. Depression (not all) is a construct of capitalist society that makes you think you need everything and deserve everything. We don’t. Learning to accept that and being content with our needs being met is very difficult in our society. Many of us need to be plopped down in a third world country for a few months and we will really understand what we truly need.

    Reply
  3. Margie says:

    I believe that having more money would give me more contentment, not happiness. I am a single mom and I live check to check with not enough to cover the bills. I would be very content knowing that I have paid the monthly bills and no one is calling me looking for money.

    Reply
    • DianaB says:

      Indeed. I have been in your boat, and bailing water all the time is a huge impediment to contentment. I feel for you and your situation.

      Reply
  4. Barbara says:

    Yesterday, at church, our pastor’s sermon was on the benefit of giving. He started by giving us statistics of how wealthy we are in this country as compared to the rest of the world and that we are all “rich”. But he said that God does not say “no” to our enjoyment, but that he says “yes” to our generosity. He goes on to say that God prospers us not to raise our standard of “living” but to raise our standard of “giving”, and that God blesses people so that they in turn be a blessing to others. We are made unequal so we may both give and receive. I came away remembering how happy I feel when i am giving of myself, and this is real love and happiness. And speaking of happiness, Mary, I love your messages, encouragement and tips every day and you also make me happy. 🙂

    Reply
    • Petoskey says:

      I love your pastor’s sermon!! May I copy and share it on my FB page? I’ve been talking with friends about giving of ourselves more.

      Reply
  5. Frugal says:

    I live at the poverty level and money would definitely make me happier. It would make life easier and less of a struggle. It would allow me to get better care for my 93 year old mother. But it does not take money to be grateful for all I have and all the wonderful things in this world. You find what you look for.

    Reply
  6. Dorothy Kirchner Meyers says:

    Happiness is a fleeting emotion. Think about it…would you want to live in that “high” state all the time? Or sadness, again a fleeting emotion…would you want to live in that “low” state all the time? So contentment in my mind is more of a state of being…liking where you in are in life and appreciating what you have, whether it’s good health, good friends, etc. Happiness wouldn’t be appreciated if you had it all the time… without rain the flowers can’t grow, without pain the joy won’t show….

    Reply
  7. Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    I have enough stuff, in fact I think I’d be happier with less stuff. I sometimes feel the stuff I have is smothering me and yet I find it hard to give it up.

    Reply
  8. Cindy says:

    I agree that money alone could not make me happy. I believe having my family healthy and together is at the top of my list. My relationship with God is so important and He has never let me go without food or a roof over my head. I would love to be out of debt so more of my time could be spent traveling. So I am working on a plan for that using the DPL plan.

    Reply
    • guest123 says:

      hi kathy..be careful with that because people can put on a good front in church and be totally different in the real world just saying

      Reply
      • Kathy says:

        Your preaching to the choir. My ex and i dated 3 yrs off/on. 6mos. After we said I do, the abuse started.. Ä first verbal.. Then emotional.. Then physical. After 5yrs i quit after he wouldn’t get help to make me feel safe.

  9. gayleanna says:

    I believe that as long as your bills are getting paid you have a roof over your head and food to eat the average person is happy.

    Reply
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