The relation between happiness and money has always been an interesting topic of research for scientists and also for ordinary people. Although it is not stated explicitly in the public, people have great tendency to think that wealth provides an easy access to happiness and that is why happiness can be bought. Moreover, in economics, “life circumstances, and particularly growth of income, are believed to have lasting effects on happiness” (Easterlin, pg 82). This assignment is an attempt to show that although money and wealth can be beneficial for happiness, happiness can never be bought and rich people do not have to be happier than poor people. In order to arrive at that point I am going to state my arguments in the light of Richard A. Easterlin’s “Explaining Happiness” and “How To Lead a Rich Life” articles.
The general utilitarian trend in economics is to believe that if income increases substantially, then the overall well-being also will move in the same direction. In accordance with this view, “a fundamental tenet was that the way to achieve well-being is through economic growth” (pg 95). Countries, companies and individuals all try to increase their profit in order to be happier. However, research conducted by General Social Survey since 1972 show that happiness and wealth are not always positively correlated. In this research, three choices are offered to people as “very happy”, “happy” and “not too happy”. This research shows us that first of all, health plays a major role in the degree of happiness of a person. “The conclusion to which all of these findings consistently lead is that adverse health changes have a lasting and negative effect on happiness, and that there is less complete adaptation to deteriorating health” (Easterlin, pg 84). It must be understood clearly that although wealth can make a positive effect on happiness, health is much more serious and important. People can live happily without great richness but people can never become fully happy in the case of diseases and disability. Moreover, some maladies may lead even to the death of a person. It is clear that richness mean nothing without life especially healthy life. There is a famous saying in Turkish which shows this mentality very well; “Winding sheet does not have pockets (Kefenin cebi yok)”… That is why it would not be wrong to claim that poor people who have better health conditions can be happier than rich people.
Secondly, research conducted by General Social Survey also indicates that there is not a clear positive correlation between the level of happiness and income. Easterlin claims that “over the life cycle, as income increases and then levels off, happiness remains unchanged, contradicting the inference that income and well-being go together” (Easterlin, pg 86). This research clearly shows that happiness has millions of determinants and money can only be a small factor in the level of happiness. A person’s social relations, marital status, psychological situation, income level and many other things in addition to his/her health condition determine this person’s well-being totally. Thus, we cannot always talk about a positive correlation between money and happiness since there are many other factors that should be added to our equation. Economic theory, which “typically assumes that well-being depends only on attainments”, is very weak according to this research (Easterlin, pg 87) and there is not a causal effect between more income and more happiness. All these statistics show that rich people do not have to be happier than poor people.
Thirdly, although “the desire for money is the most powerful drive in our culture”, statistics show that starting from 1970’s American people have become much less happy with more income. “Between 1970 and 1999, the average American family received a 16 % raise, while the percentage of people who described themselves as very happy fell from 36 % to 29 %” (pg 93). This shows that unlike the popular view money and consumption culture makes us less and less happy. It is a fact that “the lack of money may do real harm” but in this commodity fetishism atmosphere, people do not become happier even though they earn more money but rather they become more depressed (pg 96). People’s needs are determined by the popular culture and advertisements and people try to buy things they do not need in order to be happy. The loss of spiritual and traditional values, the decreasing importance of family etc. orient people to become happy by consuming. However, as these statistics show it is not always possible and money does not make people happier but rather in today’s consumption societies poor people have more tendency to be happy.
Finally, in my opinion it would be a very wrong generalization to state that money can buy happiness and rich people are happier than poor people. There are much more important things in life such as the health and moreover, happiness is a complex phenomenon which cannot be explained by a single economic variable. In many cases, we can notice that poor people are much happier than rich people. In addition, we can even claim that in today’s capitalist consumption society money makes people even more greedy which cause the unhappiness again. That is why rich people who always think of protecting their wealth and who obtain everything are insatiable and they can be much less happy. Money is a reality of modern life but life is not all about the money…