Money Can’t Buy Happiness? Really?

‘Money can’t buy happiness.’ It’s an over-used cliche that came to mind this weekend while I was reading this article in the New York Times about the increase in use of food stamps.

It’s a heartbreaking read about people who have worked hard and contributed their whole lives, but who now find themselves struggling due to lost jobs or reduced overtime. The first thing that struck me is how the people in the story often see themselves as desperately in need, but think that ‘everyone else’ is ripping off the system. It seems that being in need isn’t always enough to stimulate empathy for others. But the second thing that struck me was a feeling I’m sure many of us had this Thanksgiving: a feeling of gratitude that I have enough to eat.

This paragraph in particular struck home:

Still, the program has filled the Dawsons’ home with fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and meat, and something they had not fully expected — an enormous sense of relief. “I know if I run out of milk, I could run down to the gas station,” said Mr. Dawson’s wife, Sheila. As others here tell it, that is a benefit not to be overlooked.

I do not, by any means, live a life of luxury. But I don’t have to worry about being able to buy milk if we run out and that is something to be thankful for.

Which brings me to the ‘money can’t buy happiness’ cliche. Really?

Can’t it ease the strains on families like the ones in the article? Can’t it give breadwinners a sense of pride that they are taking care of their families? Can’t it remove the fear of being foreclosed on? Isn’t ‘money can’t buy happiness’ just something that wealthy people say?

On a much less serious note than daily survival, for the last 3 years I’ve been running my business on an ancient PC. It was so slow that sometimes I’d go make a cup of tea while I waited for it to open Photoshop. It regularly crashed and asked to do even the simplest task, it acted like a cranky old man being asked to get up and answer the telephone. I didn’t replace it because good computers are expensive and it was still functioning.

But when it finally gave up the ghost, I made the switch I’ve been thinking about for a few years and I bought an iMac. I can’t even tell you the difference! My new computer has made the most routine of chores into something enjoyable. I hadn’t realized how difficult the simplest task had become until I worked on this new machine. And I didn’t realize how many little irritations and stresses were piling up throughout each day.

When you keep losing things you’re working on and have to start again – stress! When your computer just completely freezes up right when you’re on a tight deadline – stress! When emails just stop coming in or going out for no apparent reason and you know people are waiting for things from you – stress! When you’re in a rush, but your program just won’t open and you have to reboot, a process that takes upwards of 15 minutes – stress!

Getting a fabulous new computer has removed all that stress from my day. It may not have bought me happiness, but it has bought me freedom from unnecessary tension. Just as those food stamps have brought those families freedom from worry.

Their need is obviously much greater than mine and I am massively grateful that my stress was coming from a dysfunctional computer and not an empty belly, but both stories make me certain of one thing: “money can’t buy happiness” is something only a rich person would say.

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