Which do you value more – your money or your life? In today’s consuming culture, most people wouldn’t mind having more money to spend. But while money matters in life, ie for meeting basic needs, always wanting more, or having more and spending more may not necessarily be a good thing. Too much money shatters one’s life.
That’s no preachy philosophy, but an emerging scientific verdict from a growing body of research today. Based on statistics and psychological tests, psychologists today are repeating what clerics and philosophers have preached for millennia: Money can’t buy happiness (or health) – but happiness (and health) may buy money.
If you’re poor in “Vitamin M”, be thankful for findings indicate the less wealthy tend to have a more meaningful life than the rich – having less makes you happier, having more makes you sick.
We examine why money is your best friend and also your worst enemy, probe the hidden causes of modern society’s money mania, and investigate if materialism is indeed bad for health, as psychologists everywhere now warn.
MONEY cannot buy happiness. Health is wealth. These age-old sayings are increasingly being validated by research findings and are today being doled out more than ever to consumers everywhere as modern society strives for wealth and gets caught up in the advertising-ruled culture of buying more, owning more, and throwing more – at the risk to their own well-being, happiness and health.
Over the past decade, the study of happiness, formerly the preserve of philosophers, therapists and gurus, has morphed into a bona fide discipline (New Scientist, 4 October 2003). You can find “professors of happiness” at leading universities, “quality of life” institutes the world over, and thousands of research papers (There are now about 3,000 published papers on the subject of happiness alone.) It even has its own journal, the Journal of Happiness Studies.
And policy advisers are getting interested. In the United Kingdom, the Cabinet Office has held a string of seminars on life satisfaction, and in December 2003 the British prime minister’s Strategy Unit published a paper recommending policies that might increase the nation’s happiness.
A World Database of Happiness has also been created in the last few years.
Happiness Can Be Measured
Human happiness is a real phenomenon that can be measured (“Personality and Subjective Well-Being,” Understanding Well-Being: Scientific Perspectives on Enjoyment and Suffering, The Russell Sage Foundation, 1998).
To measure happiness, psy-chologists use surveys and a variety of other measures that are strongly correl-ated with observable behaviours that we as-sociate with well-being. For example, if you’re happy, you’re more likely to initiate social contact with friends, and you’re more likely to respond positively when others ask you for help.
And if you’re happy, you’re also less likely to suffer from psychosomatic illnesses – eg: digestive disorders, other stress disorders and headaches. A happy person is also less likely to be absent from work or to get involved in disputes at work. He or she is also less likely to attempt suicide – the ultimate behavioural measure of unhappiness.
Who’s Happy, Who’s Not
In a recent study (World Values Survey) (1999-2001) of more than 65 countries by an international network of social scientists, it was found that the happiest people in the world live in Africa and the least happy in Eastern Europe.
The survey, a worldwide investigation of socio-cultural and political change conducted about every 4 years, indicates that Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.
The findings were published in the New Scientist in 2003. The international survey, among others, questioned people about how happy they are and how satisfied they are with their lives.
“New Zealand ranked 15th for overall satisfaction, the US 16th, Australia 20th and Britain 24th – although Australia beats the other three for day-to-day happiness,” the New Scientist says.
This, and many other happiness studies have uncovered a sobering truth about money that many people today have yet to realise.