“Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.” – Psalm 62:9-10
Marble covers the walls of each stall of the men’s room at the Ritz Carlton in Upper Manhattan, New York City. The stalls each have their own rich wooden door –one that shuts with a sturdy knob and not a common latch – enclosing the user in a marble room of privacy and serenity. The wash basins are also of marble, brown and gray and masculine. Blue orbs topped by white shades guard the walls above the basins, their bulbs pouring light on the room. Instead of paper towels, individual white cloths are folded neatly beside the basins for the purpose of drying one’s hands. It is a pleasant place, but in the end, with marble and drying cloths, elegance and expense, the room serves the same purposes as any other restroom in the world.
Famous Spanish soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo grieved publicly recently, saying, “I’m sad because of a professional issue and Real Madrid know why. That’s why I didn’t celebrate the goals, because I’m not happy.” ESPN writer Francesc Tomas joked at Ronaldo‘s expense, saying, “It must be hard to earn 10 million euros per season while playing your favorite sport in front of millions of adoring fans.” Tomas noted that Real Madrid fans were disgusted with Ronaldo, considering the financial struggles of so many in Spain these days. Yet, Ronaldo’s dissatisfaction with his situation – whether caused by jealousy or disagreements with good friends or losing the 2012 UEFA Best Player award – highlights the age-old saying that money can’t buy happiness.
A federally funded United States panel is studying the relative happiness of Americans as one of the measures of the nation’s well-being. The GDP may improve and the Dow Jones may climb, but financial successes don’t necessarily mean people are living healthy, happy lives.
In March of 1968, Robert F. Kennedy noted that the gross national product, GDP’s predecessor, counted many factors, from nuclear warheads to cigarette advertisements, but it “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages … It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
It is true. It’s difficult to quantify something as subjective and changing as “happiness” or even general well-being. Steve Landefeld, director of the U.S. Department of Commerce‘s Bureau of Economic Analysis said, “We’re much better served to use our statistical resources to extend existing GDP to capture economic welfare.” Accurately measuring true happiness is a trick.
Columbia University’s environmental Earth Institute did a study on the effect of wealth on well-being. It found that people in poor countries experienced a much higher sense of well-being when they had money, but in wealthier countries the bigger issues were political freedom, health, social support and stable families, and job security. The United States ranked 11th in the world in its citizens’ self-reported happiness, beaten out by the likes of Canada and Norway, Finland and Denmark, but better off than most of the other 156 countries studied. According to the report, 85 percent of the 450,000 Americans polled felt generally happy each day and most also felt like their lives were going well, regardless of their annual income. Forty percent did say they felt stress, but just 24 percent reported feelings of sadness.
On the other hand, a 2010 Princeton study found that people tended to compare themselves to their neighbors. If they had more earthly good than the people around them, they tended to report that their lives were going well. Having money did not eliminate their day-to-day struggles, and they might still wake up grouchy, but they tended to see themselves as well-off in general.
It appeared, in fact, that money could buy more “happiness” up to about $75,000 per year, at which point having more money did not affect day-to-day cheer. At least, money was no longer a major issue. People could pay bills, go out with friends when they wanted, and buy occasional luxuries.
There is something to be said for using a nice, clean, marble bathroom as opposed to a under-cleaned public transportation bathroom, or an outhouse, or a hole in the floor.
Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University has followed the winners of multi-million dollar jackpots and has found that a year after the windfall, big lottery winners were generally less happy than before. They drink and smoke more and suffer more mental ill health. Whether it is because buying everything one ever wanted ends up feeling pointless or empty, or because friends and family can turn nasty and jealous and greedy, there are many ways having money can make life harder. Oswald said he would advise winners to give the money away.
On the other hand, single mother Sheri Munson told K-House about a time when she didn’t have the money to pay the power bill and her electricity was turned off. She had five children living at home. Years later, one of her daughters said, “Hey Mom! Remember that time when we cooked our food on the wood stove and you lit candles in the living room and read to us by candle light? Remember that? That was one of my favorite times.” It’s all about perspective.
There is more to happiness than luxuries. There may even be more to happiness than keeping the electricity on. A new jet ski or a trip to Fiji can be fun at first, but after a while, it becomes just another thing requiring storage space. A big, comfortable house is nice, but paying the mortgage can mean less freedom to take off early to watch the kids’ soccer game. The things that matter – close, warm relationships with friends and family, a sense of purpose in life, a clean conscience – are not things that money can buy.
Ultimately, there is a source of contentedness and a sense of well-being that money can never touch, one that will likely never come before a federal panel for analysis. The truly happiest among us may be those precious souls who learn to completely trust and obey the God of Heaven, who have confidence that no pile of bills or empty gas tank are too much for Him.
Trusting that God’s love is real and faithful offers a freedom unknown by even those with billions. Money can be lost overnight. Houses can burn. The stock market can crash. Yet, those who trust in God’s abounding love know that whatever happens, however scary the situation, everything will work out for great things. He clothes the lilies. He watches over the sparrows. He is good. When mountains can be tossed into the sea by a word, they lose much of their ability to cause stress. They become another way for God to show His wonderful power. What life could be more happy than walking, child-like, hand-in-hand with the Creator of the Universe?
“Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” –Psalm 37:4