Friday, January 9, 2009

Money ad nauseum

I saw that the topic of the day over at One-Minute Writer was: "Can money buy happiness?" I want to consider the obverse: "Can lack of money cause unhappiness?" That is because I firmly believe that money cannot buy happiness, but I almost as firmly believe that lack of money can cause unhappiness. So how do I support my feeling that lack of money can cause unhappiness?

The prime example supporting the thesis can be found every day in the world around us. People (adults and children) are condemned to death simply because there is no money to pay for the drugs or the operation or the food or ... that would keep them alive. The failure to prevent senseless deaths for want of as little as $15 per year per person seems to be a real indictment of humanity. But the issue as far as the thesis here can be reduced to the question of whether death can be equated to unhappiness in some way.

I know that some would argue that death is not unhappiness. The Christian far right and religions with a tradition of belief in martyrdom would argue that death and the subsequent journey to heaven is the opposite of unhappiness.  After all, consider the rapture of conservative Christianity and the martyrdom of conservative Islam and other such teachings of other religions. I don't have any unique insight as to whether the victims themselves are unhappy, but I would argue that even if the victim was not unhappy, the circle of friends and family connected to the victim certainly are. It is the rare parent indeed that is not unhappy to see their child die. It is even rarer for any person not to have emotional ties to other people such that those people are not unhappy to see them die.

So I'll leave it open to the theologians and moralists for a "politically correct" answer. But my personal answer has to be that a lack of money can indeed cause unhappiness. Being a logical sort, you'll note I immediately pushed the argument right to the wall in equating death to unhappiness. That is because illuminating a question in black and white can make the shiftiness of shades of gray less entrapping. No matter whether you want to push it to the edge or not, you probably have an opinion on the question. So - Can lack of money cause unhappiness?

[ As and aside: I have to say that the ammo for Stupid Saturday is growing by leaps and bounds. While I really want to thank the universe for stepping up and making tomorrow's post easy, I am at the same time very concerned for the survival of the world as we know it. It is probably good that intelligence is not a required trait for species survival. More tomorrow. ]


  1. My experience in studying "subjective wellbeing" (The psychologists don't like the term "happiness") is that once your basic needs of food, shelter and health are dealt with further money has limited happiness benefits. So this agrees with your reverse hypothesis.

  2. Money may not buy happiness but at least you can be miserable in style.

  3. Well I do know what it's like to be broke. We were never poor (obvioulsy an arguable term) but money was T.I.G.H.T for years for our family of five - we were unhappy with our circumstances but worked very hard at making the best of everything! When my husband was promoted it significantly changed our lifestyle. For a while I wondered if money DID bring happiness. But now that things have evened out a little, I see that while money does bring a large amount of comfort and security, it most certainly does not bring happiness all on it's own.

    In an attempt to put into words that I agree with you I wrote what appeared to be a short novel - so I deleted it and am now choosing to simply write; yes, I agree that lack of money can bring unhappiness, especially if the end result is death.

  4. Yeah what Lee said...subjective wellbeing...aren't there also some studies regarding the amount of money it takes to be happy? Like, once your basic needs are met, the amount your happiness increases actually decreases the more money you make, incrementally? Did that make sense? So, for every $15K you make over X amount of dollars, your happiness increases less each time, i.e. maybe 10% for the first $15k increase, then 5% for the second $15K increase, etc. etc. Wow, now that I just totally confused everyone, I'm leaving.


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