July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Today I have some depressing news from the Office of National Statistics in England. According to the ONS, “Wealthier people have a greater sense of wealth and happiness.”

Wealthy people have a greater sense of wealth? Wow. That’s profound.

But what’s really profound is that they’re saying that rich people are happier, on average. Just in case you were ever trying to decide whether to have more money or less money, their money is on more money. Now you can make an informed decision.

This seems like an obvious thing to say, but it also seems to conflict with the famous expression that says, “Money can’t buy happiness,” which was coined (oy) by the rich so we won’t take any of their money.

But is it true? I don’t know. Sure, money can’t buy happiness, but poverty can’t buy anything.

But this new statistic isn’t some theory; it’s based on an actual poll. They asked thousands of people to rate their happiness on a scale of 0-10, and people with more money gave higher numbers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that as people get more money, they become happier. Maybe happier people make more money. It’s like the Mishna says in Avos: “Who is wealthy? One who’s happy with his lot.” That’s how you get there.

Okay, so that’s probably not what the Mishna means—that if you’re happy with your lot, you’re more likely to make money. At least as far as I know. In fact:

  1. The Mishna is talking about actual happiness, whereas the study was about how happy people felt at the moment of the poll, relative to other people.
  2. Maybe happier people have more time to take a poll. Rich people who have time to take a poll are happy, whereas poor people who have time to take a poll are unemployed.
  3. It could be that the general British public does not know Pirkei Avos.

But as far as the English expression, I think it’s meant to be literal—that money can’t literally buy happiness. You can’t walk into the store and say, “I’d like five pounds of happiness, please… Wait, is that fresh? If it’s not fresh, I’m not going to be happy.”

But really the expression should be, “Money doesn’t buy lasting happiness.” There’s definitely some happiness in money. Any boss who wants to make his employees happy doesn’t say, “Okay, let’s hire a clown.” He gives them more money. So I guess the question is what happiness means. If it means less stress, then yes, having more money causes less stress.

Or does it? After all, we also have a tradition that “Marbeh nechasim, marbeh daagah—More money, more problems.” On the other hand, richer people can afford better therapists.

The interesting thing is that according to the study, actual physical possessions have little effect on happiness. Apparently, the stuff money buys can’t buy happiness, it’s just the money that buys happiness. Money buys happiness, but only if you keep the money. But then what’s the point for having money? Money isn’t inherently useful. What are you going to do with money if you can’t spend it? Are you going to pour it on a bed and roll around in it? Okay, so I guess if that’s what you’re going to do, money does buy happiness. But you should also be careful if you’re going to roll around in your money, because money has germs on it, from all the people who rolled around in it before you.

So I looked into it, and it turns out there have actually been a lot of different theories and studies over the years into this topic. A lot of money has been poured into it. And guess what? The scientists are still not happy. They keep doing more studies.

For example, there’s University of Colorado Professor Leaf Van Boven, who found that you get higher levels of happiness if you spend the money on life experiences, rather than on material possessions. Material possessions depreciate over time, plus you have to pay taxes, whereas memories of life experiences last until your memory starts going.

And yes, the vacations themselves can be stressful, but looking back, people don’t remember the stressful part. In fact, the stressful parts are just remembered as funny. (“Hey, remember when we all got food poisoning at the same time, in that tiny hotel room? That was hilarious.”)

Buying a new phone, for example, doesn’t make you happy. You have to wait for it to come, then you have to set it up, then whenever it doesn’t work you’re like, “Uch…,” and when it’s gone, you have no fond memories of the phone. (“Hey, remember that time I was on my phone at Chaim’s wedding? Here’s a picture of it… Oh, I don’t have any. Because the phone is also the camera.”) No, your final memories with your phone are all about being frustrated and yelling at it and giving it CPR and finally deciding to pull the plug.

In fact, if you are going to buy something, Leaf says, don’t buy it just to have it; buy it so that you can have better experiences and therefore better memories. Don’t buy a boat to have a boat, buy it to go boating. Don’t just buy something because it exists when it’s not really going to make new memories.

“Hey, remember the fourth phone I owned?”

“Which one was that?”

“The one after the third.”

“Oh, yeah. Memories.”

“Totally. Remember that time I showed up, and I was like, “I got the new phone!” and everyone was like, “Okay”? That was awesome.”

Anyway, now you have a more well-rounded view on the whole topic. I hope you’re happy.

By Mordechai Schmutter

 Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

 

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