Does Money Buy Happiness?

Originally posted on 2005-12-26 at WritingUp. This is a response to a rather sad but thought provoking post by Amy Lo Pan, whose journal is certainly worth reading.

Your post is remarkable in that it raises the question most directly: Does money buy happiness for our society? Is money a necessary condition for our happiness in some way, if it is not a sufficient condition?

When I think about other societies in the Western mold, I can imagine them as Christian or pagan. Christian societies could produce hermits; pagan societies could produce warriors. Despite the differences of these figures, one thing stands out: both needed nothing if need be. Both figures were self-sufficient in their own way.

We today create clergy and soldiers. Not quite the same thing – clergy are tied to institutions dependent on finances or goodwill; soldiers fight in theaters far removed from the circumstance of home. Needing nothing may be taught, but it is not taught directly by our institutions or circumstances.

The disappearance of both types occurred when society was reconfigured from a feudal structure where the aristocracy and clergy ruled into a capitalist structure. At first, the lower orders, who were making money, empowered the king against the nobility and clergy. Then they decided to rule themselves. But does making money – the one strength of the lower orders – mean that rule over oneself is possible? Making money certainly means that it is hard for others to rule over one; but as noted before, those who could live on nothing were cut from the picture as the transition to capitalism & democracy was effected.

The upshot of this story – it is obviously not meant to be historically accurate, but rather metaphorical – is to show that we feel making money is necessary, because in a deep sense it is all we understand.

I am not saying this to be insulting. Some Leftists will interpret this to mean we are greedy. They don’t understand that what is necessary for a person to have changed when the feudal order was destroyed. Back then, it was necessary for a man to be holy or virtuous. They were the pillars of society, they ruled and made sure all was kept in order.

Now the strength of society does not lie in each of us individually, but rather in the forces that drive us and the ability of the world to satisfy those forces. We want money not because we love gain, but because we’re scared. We want security. We are fearful of what the world can do to us, what other individuals can do to us, what time can do to us. These are all reasonable concerns. And they are wholly separate from cultivation of holiness or virtue.

Fear drives us, and makes us compete for necessary goods in the marketplace. Alleviation of fear occurs through entertainment, too: we are buying a necessary good when we buy chocolate or video games – we’re trying to keep the issue of “Are we secure?” out of our heads.

This fear makes itself manifest most conspicuously when we don’t have, though, when we don’t feel secure. And because we fear not providing for those we love more than ourselves, that makes family gatherings all the more painful at times.

So. Money looks like it is the sufficient condition for happiness, because with it, we have the confidence to rule ourselves, and effect our will. And since we are not bad people, that’s not a bad thing. What is a bad thing is when we don’t have it.

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1 Comment

  1. I think Money can make our lives better but I don’t think it can bring happiness! I have had a lot and I have had a little. Relationships are what make my life happy or not, not money!

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