Buying Happiness

For if neither thousands of gold or silver, nor any of the advantages or pleasures purchased thereby, can prevent our being miserable, it evidently follows that they cannot make us happy.

Are the rich and great the only happy men?  And is each of them more or less happy in proportion to his measure of riches?  Are they happy at all?  I had well nigh said, they of all men are the most miserable!

John Wesley (1748)

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11 comments on “Buying Happiness

  1. ain"t for city gals says:

    The quality of the comments from the last post is amazing!…and so it makes me think that all that read this blog are happy in our own little way!

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    • Bill says:

      We get some really excellent comments here. They definitely improve the blog and I really enjoy interacting with them. And yes I agree that we all seem to be a happy lot. 🙂

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, most people believe that if they just had more money life would be better. The seed for true happiness lies in our lifestyle and choices we make along the road of life. My insurance man tells me that widows that received huge sums of money from life insurance settlements when their spouse dies have spent it all in just three to five years. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. Million dollar lottery winners end up broke and in worse shape than before in less than 10 years. Very few of those that receive large sums of money without earning it, end up in a better state than before their receiving it.

    In my humble opinion, contentment is the answer to happiness. If I have a warm place to sleep at night, enough food to eat, clothes to wear, and a purpose in life, then my basic needs are taken care of. Every thing after that is a blessing. The world would say that we all need more stuff. I have a basement full of stuff from before my wife’s death but it didn’t make one bit of difference in how happy we were. Most of the stuff, after sitting in the basement for 13 years, is being hauled out of the house and disposed of. Simple pleasures in life are the best at building contentment in life.

    Have a great striving for happiness day.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m in full agreement with you Dave. Contentment is definitely the key.

      I’ve known some very wealthy, very unhappy, very discontent people. And I’ve also known some people of very modest means who were content with their station in life and very happy. As a wise person wrote about 3,000 years ago, “Whoever loves money never has enough.”

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  3. The Wesley quote together with the Berry quote from yesterday put me in mind of one of Bill McKibben’s books: http://www.billmckibben.com/deep-economy.html It’s been a few years, but I think it’s in this book that Bill comments on research done about people’s happiness levels, and it turns out that yes, the very poor are unhappy. But it turns out that people at the other end of the economic scale are unhappy too. Apparently people need enough for comfort, and depending on their culture and their family circumstances, that isn’t necessarily very much, and they even enjoy a bit more for frivolity, but beyond a certain point, money does not buy happiness.

    And I think Nebraska Dave hits it on the head with the notion of contentment.

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    • Bill says:

      Deep Economy is one of my favorite books. While our economic system has done a good job of creating the conditions to lift people out of abject poverty, we all need to learn to say “enough” once we have enough. That goes directly to Dave’s comment about contentment. I agree that he nailed it.

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  4. The more you have the more you worry about losing it. On the other hand, there is a point of having nothing that I preview not to reach…

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    • Bill says:

      Returning to the same wise writer I mentioned in my response to Dave, “the abundance of the rich permits them no sleep.”

      Or as the great philosopher Tyler Durden put it, “The things you own, own you.”

      As Bill McKibben points out his book Deep Economy (mentioned in the comment by Sailorssmallfarm), a person with no food, clothing or shelter will be made exponentially happier by the money allowing him to obtain those things. But a person with two houses isn’t twice as happy as person with only one–which is Wesley’s point.

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  5. shoreacres says:

    On the other hand, money’s what keeps me from living under a bridge. Money may not buy happiness, but it buys the groceries, keeps the lights on, and pays for medical care. When there’s only so much, life becomes a balancing act, and while that isn’t misery, it’s not comfortable. Sometimes it even brings unhappiness, as it has for me this fall: medical bills and spiraling contractors’ liability insurance premiums mean no vacation. So it goes. I find more jobs, get more money, and travel next spring. 🙂

    I must say — It’s my observation that most people who say money doesn’t matter generally have plenty of it.

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  6. Bill says:

    Wesley’s subject is “riches” not “money.” This comes from one of his discourses on the Sermon on the Mount. He’s elaborating on something Jesus said (“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”) and something from 1 Timothy 6:17 (“trust not in uncertain riches”). Don’t trust riches to bring you happiness, he says, because they won’t.

    Wesley did not say that money doesn’t matter (and of course neither did Jesus or St. Paul). He famously said we should gain all we can gain in order to give all we can give. But he was adamant that a person should keep for themselves nothing more than that which is necessary for the basics of life.

    He recognized and agreed that it is necessary and appropriate to spend money on food, shelter, etc. Referring to the commandment not to “lay up treasures on earth” Wesley wrote, “Neither… does he here forbid the providing for ourselves such things as are needful for the body; a sufficiency of plain, wholesome food to eat, and clean raiment to put on. Yea, it is our duty, so far as God puts it into our power, to provide these things also; to the end we may ‘eat our own bread,’ and be burdensome to no man.”

    Wesley would be in agreement with Bill McKibben, mentioned in earlier comments, that money is a good thing when it provides the necessities of life, but does not bring happiness if hoarded. He would also agree with Dave, that contentment is the key. That is not to say that folks should be content with poverty or need, but rather that they should be content once they have all they need, rather than continue to seek more and more money and wealth.

    Wesley earned a lot of money in his life from the hundreds of books he published, but he gave it all away as he earned it. He died nearly penniless.

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