Money, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

It seems generally agreed upon that happiness is the holy grail of human existence. Other than avoiding pain, nothing else seems to motivate us as humans. (Sometimes you have to dig through layers of abstraction, but one of these seems to be at the end of every human endeavor)

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with some friends about happiness. We were discussing the role of money in happiness, whether it had a role, and if so, how much?

There is a popular study that one of my friends quoted… A group of psychologists created a survey in which they asked people to rate their happiness:

“When asked to rate their over all level of happiness, on a scale
from 1 to 10, the majority of people indicated about 6,7 or so. Interestingly it
was discovered that a divorce, or serious injury, even the loss of a limb,
caused this level to go down a one or two points for a 1 to 2 years, but then it
usually came back to about 6 or 7. Falling in love or winning the lottery caused
the level of happiness to go up a point or two for a year or two, but then it
went back to the previous level. What this implies is that a slight increase
that could be sustained, was more significant than more dramatic life events. In
other words if you find small things that make you feel good, and do them on a
regular basis, your overall level of happiness is greater than if you fall in
love, win the lottery.”*

This experiment seems to state that mentality about the small things in life is where true happiness is found. It was argued that their isn’t a set way to measure happiness, and that interviews of people would yield different results because everyone has their own scale. This seems to tie into my other post about the Paradox of Choice, in which someone with a scale that includes an untouchable amount of elation might end up rating himself at a 5, instead of a 7, but this is justified, since it is in accordance to his expectations. Since Happiness is so subjective, how can someone possibly rate himself, and be wrong? Even if the scale is different for different people, the only opinion that matters is your own, so normalizing scales is unnecessary.

It was my contention that money only matters until your basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) are met. Beyond that, what truly matters is your relationships with family, friends. Religion can play a big role, depending on how religious you are.

One paradox in this discussion is the difficulty of explaining the value of a close family or friend to someone who doesn’t have one. In the same way, the value religion plays in a person’s happiness is a concept that is hard to explain to a non-religious person. It’s hard to imagine value (in terms of happiness) if one has not already experienced it at some point.

I’m going to have to continue thought down this path. For such an important topic, my ability to articulate my thoughts is frightfully inept.

* I couldn’t locate the actual study, just this synopsis.


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