Happiness is like a sack of gold coins. It is the highly prized barometer gauging our status in the world in the most personal of terms. We define ourselves as to how much we possess and compare our happiness to that of others. We look at the handsome couple, holding hands and radiating smiles, concluding that they are happy. We see the successful businessman in his expensive suits and luxury cars, assuming that this person personifies happiness.
But looks can be deceiving. Numerous studies show that wealthy individuals are not happier that the rest of us. Financial psychologist Brad Klontz notes that many of us erroneously believe that more money leads to greater happiness. But research shows that the correlation between money and happiness is illusionary and not what the majority of us believe, he says:
Poverty, with all of its profound stressors, is clearly a cause for unhappiness. However, studies show that there is no significant correlation between money and happiness above a household income of $50,000 per year. Moreover, the significant economic gains experienced by Americans in the past few decades have not been accompanied by a rise in life satisfaction and are actually associated with increases in distrust and depression.
That distrust has fostered an innate fear that many rich individuals harbor. They believe that they are being befriended only because of the money that they have. They are distrustful of potential ‘gold diggers’ who are looking for a quick score or grifters working a scam.
Graeme Wood, staff writer for The Atlantic, reported in his article ‘Secret Fears of the Super Rich,’ the results of an interesting Boston College study. Here, 120 super rich individuals, all with a net worth of $25-million or more, were asked to reply in writing to questions about love, work, and family. According to the article:
The respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work and family. Indeed, they are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes. Most of them still do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average, one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess.
There is never enough wealth and never the sweet taste of satisfaction. It is a sad plight repeated from tony mansions to exclusive yacht clubs. The lives of the rich and famous are consumed, perhaps doomed, with maintaining status and keeping up with their neighbors, negotiating pre-nuptial agreements, war-like multi-million-dollar divorce settlements, and hiding from mendacious individuals who throw themselves upon the vulnerable and detached super wealthy. For some, wealth is a curse that promises only pain and suffering, a ball and chain cast in gold and silver.
Ours is a nation driven by rampant consumerism, an attempt to fill the gaping holes of our emptiness with what we think will be happiness. It is a quest to accrue more clothing, cars, and accouterments, things that provide immediate comfort and gratification. But it is never enough. The thrill is gone even as we rip the plastic wrap from our latest acquisition. It is a brief, rapidly extinguished quick fix. It lasts only until the next purchase of more stuff. People who have things tend to want even more, like the heroin addict craving another hit of the drug. We have developed tolerance, plain and simple.
Experts agree with this depressing view of materialism. Psychological lecturer Steve Taylor believes that, what he calls our ‘Modern Materialism,’ is driven by a nagging voice of discontent:
Our appetite for wealth and material goods isn’t driven by hardship, but by our own inner discontent. We’re convinced that we can buy our way to happiness, that wealth is the path to permanent fulfilment and well-being. We still measure ‘success’ in terms of the quality and price of the material goods we can buy, or in the size of our salaries.
Our search for joy can lead to curious, compulsive behaviors. Hoarding is an illness that drives individuals to scavenge and collect more and more. The International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation estimates that one of every 50 people deal with issues of severe hording and one in four people with OCD are also compulsive hoarders.
Despite this sad compulsion, the public salivates for a further glimpse, fueled by TV programs such as A&E’s Hoarders and TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive. Because compulsive hoarders develop an emotional attachment to their possessions, they refuse to get rid of them. They feel that stacks of magazines or a house filled with cats, provide comfort and value to their empty lives. The behavior begets a continuous cycle of anxiety, fear, hoarding, and isolation. In his article “The Psychology Behind Hoarding,” Gregory L. Jantz says:
Hoarding both relieves anxiety and generates it. The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. But of course, the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the outside world, including family and friends. Even the thought of discarding or cleaning out hoarded items produces extreme feelings of panic and discomfort.
Those panicked individuals are driven to collect stacks of yellowed newspapers and uneven settings of broken china and crystal ware. Alone behind drawn curtains, they suffer from a tortured emptiness of the soul. Some believe that love, or the lack of it, fosters this feeling of emptiness.
Those who dwell in a world of emptiness want to be happy but have lost their way, their lives dependent upon external forces and not themselves. Powerless, they have abdicated their authority, replacing it with dusty collections of discarded junk and dreams of large stacks of money.
The God of Materialism
George Lorimer (1867-1937), Editor of the Saturday Evening Post, viewed money as an intricate duality. He said, “It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy.” That bit of sage advice encourages us to determine what is really important and not become a slave to the God of materialism and monetary temptations.
The maxim, Money can’t buy you happiness, invites discussion and begs for clarification. Although money can’t buy true happiness, it can provide a soothing balm for the family struggling with mortgage payments, bills, and the unending needs of growing children. Many are hard pressed to make ends meet. Some are forced to work several jobs leaving them exhausted and unable to properly nurture and care for family members.
Money can make our lives a bit easier and less stressful. Money, in the form of a financial windfall or good paying job, provides us with the bounty of leisure time that can be spent on hobbies and family affairs. Money, in that regard, provides an opportunity to improve our quality of life.
Despite its allure, money should never be placed at the top of our priorities, as other, more important variables, reside at our center. Those who are self-aware, soon realize that proposition. Life coach Stefan James believes that people with a positive mindset, “make happiness their top value in life. They engage in a process of self-reflection, learn how to master their emotions, and find peace within themselves, which in turn, allows them to experience inner happiness.”
True happiness is not the byproduct of materialism but radiates from a collage of positivity surrounding healthy relationships, satisfying occupations and hobbies, and an awareness of a Higher Power. In the end, we decide what really is of value and determine if we want to pay the price.
Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin explores the dark marriage between grunge music and the beginning of the opioid crisis. Learn more a