I was listening recently to an Intelligence Squared debate on one of their podcasts. This particular debate was about if money can or cannot buy happiness. I was only 10 minutes into the podcast but I realized my position on the topic. Don’t worry, I listened to the entire podcast, but I started writing notes almost immediately. It’s about time I posted something new to this blog.
My position is that money cannot buy happiness. However it’s important to note what money can do for anyone. Many times in the debate, the side arguing for money buying happiness kept citing poor destitute people as people who find happiness with money. This is an excellent point, but is flawed logic. The problem is how money relates to the poor.
The debaters who tried to argue that money cannot buy happiness often cited the rich, who were not always happy. So why are the poor happy when they get money and the rich not happy when they do? Simple. Happiness is not about how much money you have, happiness is about what are you doing with your life and does it make you happy? The poor can be happy if some money enables them to do something with their lives and entertain themselves. If a Rich person isn’t doing anything and doesn’t know what to do, no amount of money will necessarily make them happy.
The problem with the rich person isn’t money, it’s that they have let something else control their direction rather than their own heart and mind. That person will have to do some deep introspection to figure out why they are not happy and change direction.
The problem with the poor person isn’t money, it’s power. There are ton’s of people who probably make less than the poverty line but they have figured out how to make their lives happy and no one and nothing is holding them back. If they have power over their lives, they are able to pursue their happiness.
Empowerment is what leads to happiness. If you have the freedom to do what you want, then you can do it.
Okay so what about money? Well, money does not always lead to empowerment. Money empowers the poor person while it traps the rich person. Money is means to get the things we need to survive, and the things we want to entertain ourselves and meet our goals. Power comes from many sources. Money is one source, but so is knowledge, law, natural talent, relationships with friends/family/coworkers, etc. Therefore you don’t need money to gain happiness, money only sets you on the path by empowering you to find that happiness, and could clear some obstacles.
As an aside, when I said knowledge, many people may point out that “Ignorance is bliss.” This is true… if you are either supported by a system that gives you freedom or you are totally detached from society and reality that it doesn’t matter what happens to you. If you are one of those type of people who sits on your butt watching TV, be happy that you are able to move about freely to the store to get potato chips, that the airways are unblocked to allow you to see the shows you want to show, that water is provided to you by the local government, and that police patrol your neighborhood to keep you safe. That’s freedom. A mentally handicapped person who feels no pain has a lot of freedom if no one can hurt them. That’s a very special kind of freedom.
So back to the title of this post. Money buys freedom, particularly in places where money is important. Freedom opens you up to the idea for you to find your power. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a powerful phrase. The founding fathers wanted to give people the opportunity to live and live free enough to pursue what they want. Money only gives you the first two and even then, it doesn’t always. Just one factor in a larger equation. Happiness you find on your own, but only once you have the freedom to do so, and not everyone uses their freedom to do so. This is why Money does not buy happiness.