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Can Wealth Buy Well-Being?

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Harry Potter

Ms. Ashley Gangi

English 1010-018

31 January 2017

Can Wealth Buy Well-Being?

The common phrase, money does not or cannot buy happiness, can be heard in classroom conversations, talks with guidance counselors, or discussions between friends and colleagues. Myers says, “Could money buy you happiness? Most deny it. However, ask a different question – Would a little more money make you a little Happier? – and many will smirk and nod yes” (15). There seems to be a commonly held belief in the United States that says money won’t actually make you happier. It might make you slightly happier but it won’t bring you the joy, excitement, love, and challenge that life has on offer. In several of the works, the author seems to guide us to this same conclusion. The conclusion that well-being is not dictated by the amount of wealth someone has. I believe this logic is flawed. While it is true that an increase in wealth does not perfectly equate to an increase in well-being, there are many scenarios where proper usage of wealth does cause a lasting increase in wellbeing. An action as simple and easy as saving or investing your excess money can help quiet worries over bills and payments to take some weight off of your shoulders. Wealth can facilitate happiness.

In order to discuss further, it is important to understand a few truths. The terms wealth and well-being change meaning depending on locations, and have varying meanings to people from those locations. A wealthy person living in a village in Thailand will have completely different financial history than a wealthy person living in the upper east side of Manhattan. Similarly, the majority of those living below the poverty line in New York City would likely have better resources than those living below the poverty line in a third world country. When discussing poverty, one’s actual monitory wealth is not important. What someone is actually able to do and have with that wealth is important. Furthermore, well-being is ambiguous depending on environment. If you asked a member of an Amazonian tribe to list his daily necessities, they would be extremely different than the daily necessities of a 16-year-old white male from an upper-middle class family in suburban Connecticut.

With these thoughts in mind, we can begin answering the titular question. In the piece, “The Funds, Friends, and Faith of Happy People,” Myers gives examples of individuals of varying financial status in similar countries who do not express any difference in their state of well-being, save for a few cases. “in the United States, Canada, and Europe, the correlation between income and personal happiness is …. surprisingly weak” (18).  It is important to understand that Myers statement is not entirely wrong. In fact, I am confident that if you were think of your own experiences and interactions, you would be able to describe a group of people with greater wealth than yourself, who had both happy members and sad members. Conversely, I am sure you could describe a group of people with less wealth than yourself, who also had happy members and sad members. It is logical, and partially correct, to come to the same conclusion that Myers did. Unfortunately however, his examination of the effect that one’s amount of wealth has on their happiness and well-being had an oversight.  You cannot always look at the state of something and use that to determine the causality. Myer’s used surveys to ask people with varying amounts of money, what their perceived well-being was. It is interesting to see that currently “People who go to work in their overalls and on the bus are just as happy, on average, as those in suits who drive to work in their own Mercedes. Even very rich people…are only slightly happier than the average American” (18) as Myers points out.  While this statistic may be true in the United States, it does not offer any answer to the question at hand. Observing that “rich” people are currently no happier than “poor” people does not mean that rich people could not have used their wealth in a different way to facilitate happiness. That is not to say that all rich people would be happier if they just used their wealth better. Because it is not discussed in the text, I am assuming that many wealthy people are using their money in similar ways. That is spending it on material goods. I am making this assumption from my own observations. Turn on any reality show that follows a wealthy person or family and soon you will see the gorgeous mansion they live in along with the garage filled with expensive cars and closets full of designer clothes. More often than not their perfectly manicured lawn has a large pool with expensive custom rock feature to boot. Search online for any wealthy person and there is bound to be images of them wearing extremely expensive suits or driving their extremely expensive car. However I do not believe everything I see on TV or the internet. Think of the wealthy people in your life. They might not be as wealthy as reality TV stars but are their lives that different? They most likely drive their expensive car to their nice big house. They might go out to eat more often and at nice places. They might have a boat to take out on weekends. I make the assumption that people tend spend their excess wealth on materials goods because that is what I have always seen people, including myself, spend money on.  People do not seem to spend their money properly. Later Myers begins to explore the idea of proper usage, by quoting a poll among the Forbes 100 wealthiest Americans, saying, “4 in 5 of the 49 super-rich people responding to the survey agreed that Money can increase OR decrease happiness, depending on how it is used” (18). However the key phrase “how it is used” is not explored further, something I will do later in the piece.

Myers also investigates the effect that the growth of wealth has on well-being. Again, Myers’ logic can be pushed along by the same arguments I made earlier. He uses a study about lottery winner’s levels of happiness before, directly after, and long after they win it big.

“Lottery winners typically gain only a temporary jolt of joy from their winnings. Although they are delighted to have won, the euphoria eventually fades. Likewise, those whose incomes have increased over the previous decade are not happier than those whose income has not increased.” (Myers 19)

It is easy to understand how winning the lottery would give anyone temporary happiness if not only from the joy and excitement of winning, but also from the purchase of new things. This euphoria, by its own definition, is inherently short lived. It is equally easy to understand how the joy and excitement fades. That same lottery winner could get accustomed to their wealth and revert to their previous level of happiness. That does not mean winning the lotter cannot be the source of long term happiness. Secondly, the scenario were wealth increases over a long period of time can be viewed with similar insights as the lottery scenario. It is easy to imagine how small steady increases in wealth bring less happiness than large increases, and they might fade quicker as well. Just like the case with the “rich” and “poor” Americans, levels of happiness do nothing to tell us about how that money was used, and if it could have been used in a different way.



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