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How Much Does Happiness Cost?


Well, it’s been confirmed by Newsweek, so it must be true: Money doesn’t buy happiness.

According to the article, studies have shown that while money does make people happier when it lifts them out of extreme poverty, there isn’t that much difference in the happiness levels of the middle class and the extremely wealthy. (Although, I wouldn’t be opposed to trying the “extremely wealthy” gig for awhile and letting you know how it turns out!)

One of the things that makes this study interesting is that according to economics, one of the best things that wealth affords you is choice. When you have more money, you have more options. But in reality, the choices in front of us sometimes give us cause for more anxiety than joy:

The trouble is, choice is not all it’s cracked up to be. Studies show that people like selecting from among maybe half a dozen kinds of pasta at the grocery store but find 27 choices overwhelming, leaving them chronically on edge that they could have chosen a better one than they did. And wants, which are nice to be able to afford, have a bad habit of becoming needs (iPod, anyone?), of which an advertising- and media-saturated culture create endless numbers. Satisfying needs brings less emotional well-being than satisfying wants.

Because so many of us are much more affluent than societies in the past, things that would’ve been considered luxuries are now commonplace (hello, lifestyle creep). We may be excited about a nicer car or our new iPhone, but that excitement wears off pretty quickly. We’ve come to expect nice things and wonderful vacations, and when you expect something, you don’t get as much joy out of it.

According to the article, what does make people happier is engaging in certain activities or finding meaning in life:

If money doesn’t buy happiness, what does? Grandma was right when she told you to value health and friends, not money and stuff. Or as Diener and Seligman put it, once your basic needs are met “differences in well-being are less frequently due to income, and are more frequently due to factors such as social relationships and enjoyment at work.” Other researchers add fulfillment, a sense that life has meaning, belonging to civic and other groups, and living in a democracy that respects individual rights and the rule of law.

Although it’s not explicitly mentioned, I would guess that “a sense that life has meaning” can be related to those of us who believe in a God and a graceful Savior. When life becomes less about making money and more about glorifying Him, our happiness comes from something much deeper than our newest pair of Gucci shoes.

It’s good to see articles like this because it reminds me of what’s really important. I very easily get caught up in wishing I had more money, and in believing that if I had this or that I would feel more joy. But the truth of the matter is that we can learn to be “content whatever the circumstances.” And the happiness and security that comes from knowing the one true God is something that money definitely can’t buy.


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