Buying Happiness

Last night at dinner, we got into a discussion about whether or not money could buy happiness.  I say we, but I didn’t contribute to the discourse.  To me, it’s a moot point.  All the research and polls about money and happiness start with this disclaimer:  Once basic needs are met, money does not appreciably improve one’s happiness.  I live 200% below the poverty line.  The chances of me ever testing the research are pretty slim.

The people I hear say “Money can’t buy happiness” are generally well-off, or at least comfortable, commenting on the antics of the über-rich.  It’s like whistling in the dark, a way to justify and feel comfortable about whatever amount of money one has while still envying those who have more.  It’s smug, a way of saying “I’m above all that material nonsense.”  These folks aren’t considering those of us who walk to the grocery store when we don’t have enough money to get gas for the car.  Or who simply stay home, because funds for the groceries aren’t there, either.  Actually, some of the “money can’t buy happiness” proponents do use that phrase in reference to the poor, but it’s more like a scolding.  “Be grateful you don’t have all that icky money ruining your happiness.”

I don’t begrudge people their money.  The folks I know work dang hard for every penny, and deserve the freedom and luxuries their salaries afford them.  I don’t even begrudge their expensive vacations, vast shoe collections, new-car-every-three-years policies or home remodels.  What I cannot abide, however, is hearing about their debt and limited cash flow.  Please.  When you have to choose between antibiotics or supper, then come talk to me.

Naively, I thought I could learn to be satisfied in my poverty.  I thought I could rise above the constant pressure of each little spending decision.  I thought my spiritual practice would lead me to a higher state of acceptance and tolerance.  I thought I could cheerfully teach my friends and family how to adjust their expectations and wrap their minds around me as poor.  I thought I was just a compulsive spender, using money to ease my bipolar symptoms, so I never learned how to be healthy around it.  But, by being poor every act around money feels compulsive.  Every dollar I pull out of my billfold feels forbidden.

I will continue to use money as a spiritual practice.  I have no choice.  But let me be clear.  In all the ways that matter, money does buy happiness.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jess
    May 03, 2011 @ 08:30:52

    Well said. I do agree, though, that once people are so wrapped up in wanting overly materialistic things, it can drive them crazy. As you said, with the debt and all the complaining. It’s ridiculous. They need to be thankful for what they have, especially when others are working so hard just to get by.

    Take care,


  2. gypsy116
    May 03, 2011 @ 14:41:05

    I completely agree and understand. I’ve had this same conversation with my husband. His friends would complain about how they didn’t have enough money to buy this or that unnecessary thing, and then go hop in their brand new car, and drive home to their house where they have everything they need and a lot of things they want. Meanwhile, we’re walking to and from the grocery store because we don’t have a car, and buying food with our DBT card, and when that runs out… Or walking around collecting pop cans to feed our cats. I’m glad that I have been that poor, because I could never take things for granted that most people do, but at the same time, I desperately don’t want to be poor anymore. How can you ever be happy when you’re constantly worried about being able to eat, or becoming homeless? And beyond that, when can you ever afford to do anything fun, or anything that could further you in a way to make enough to eventually be comfortable?


  3. Kathryn McCullough
    May 03, 2011 @ 18:26:21

    Thank God you are saying this! Thank God! You are so damn right–and so many people don’t have a clue, do they? I mean really, they don’t have a CLUE! Admittedly, I live VERY comfortably now, but I was where you are for way too long! And I would still be there, if it weren’t for a partner who loves me and gives me anything she can. This is the real price of mental illness–not having the money for medication–having to choose between health and hunger! I hear you. I do, my friend!


  4. pegoleg
    May 04, 2011 @ 12:50:38

    To quote whomever “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”


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  6. Gemma Sidney
    May 06, 2011 @ 04:01:39

    I came by after reading about you on Kathryn McCullough’s blog. This is a powerful and sobering message… thank you for sharing it. There’s something in it for us all.


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