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The Relationship Between Wealth and Well-Being

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Research Essay on the Relationship between Wealth and Well-Being

Can money buy happiness? As the conventional belief goes, the answer is surely negative. Most people believe that money can only satisfy our material need. Yet, a life without financial security would also become miserable. Financial success, moreover, is regarded by many as one key measurement to a person’s overall successfulness, particularly in modern society. Wealth, after all, is positively correlated with happiness to some extent. It functions primarily to guarantee our biological requirement for surviving. It falters the base line of happiness but, never fundamentally alters it. In addition, money, when accumulates beyond necessity, has diminishing effect to promote well-being.

People perceive themselves subjectively more positive in spite of the traditional view, which long held that life is tragic. In a comprehensive research on the factors that attribute to well-being, David. G. Myers finds that there exists “a long tradition views life as tragedy,” (2000) Myers refers to Rousseau: “our pains greatly exceed our pleasures,” which agreed by Samuel Johnson, who says that “we are not born for happiness.” Some contemporary reports are also in coherent with this view. Dennis Wholey (1986) finds that many experts believe around 20% of Americans are unhappy; Father John Powell (1989) echoes, “one third of Americans wake up depressed every day. Professionals estimate that only 10 to 15 percent of Americans think of themselves as truly happy. However, people response more positively than expected when being asked to evaluate their subjective feeling of life. The result is illustrated by a survey conducted in Detroit area; residents “more than 9 in 10 people” choose the happy face to represent their mood. (Myers, 2000) Further, Myers claims that “self-report of happiness are, in fact, reasonably reliable over time, despite changing life circumstances” (2000) which implies that people subjectively think themselves as consistently being happy. Clearly, this finding contradicts with the traditional view, which focuses more the overall well-being of life. The definition of happiness, therefore, is clearly different form that of well-being.

What most people perceive as happiness actually belongs to what psychologists define as “subjective well-being (SWB),” it consists “pleasant moods and emotions or positive affect ... Negative affect ... And cognitive evaluation of life satisfaction” (Swift, 2007) SWB, however, differs from “psychological well-being (PWB)” used by Ryff, (1989) who defines the term as “finding purpose in life, personal growth, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, environmental mastery and autonomy.” In comparison with SWB, PWB emphasizes more on the lifelong self-actualization, not the fleeting feeling of satisfaction, which is moment to moment. “Purpose in life and personal growth,” on the other hand, “separate PWB from SWB.” (Swift, 2007) Well-being, which closely relates to a person’s comprehensive status quo, converges more with PWB than SWB.

How could wealth, then, relates to the PWB and, more importantly, to well-being? After all, “despite being far better off financially than previous generations, we are no happier.” (Wiederman, 2007) Instead of contributing to the substantial growth of the base line of happiness, as many predict, wealth only falters it. Winning lottery is a good example; the euphoria derives from it “has a short half-life,” as Myers argues. Similar to other significant events in life,” the emotional impact dissipates thanks to our capacity to adapt to ever greater fame and fortune” (2000). Once the feeling elapses, the raised base line returns to the norm. Therefore, wealth, in most scenarios, makes people happy for short interval. The effects, after all, are turbulent and vulnerable to fear and envy. The tendency of “upward comparison”,(Wiederman, 2007) in particular detriments PWB as well as the well-being.

Although wealth cannot change our well-being in a phenomenal matter, it can, however, insuring the biological needs, which according to Maslow, builds the foundation for life-long well-being. (1954) In order to survive, food and shelter are imperative, without money, such necessities suffers, and a miserable life is inevitable as Myers finds, “when people in poorer nations compare their lifestyle with the abundance of those in rich nations, they become more aware of their relative poverty.”(2000)poverty deteriorates well-being, as exemplified by many people in African nations, whose health is at constant threat to the lack of proper medical treatment, for most of them cannot afford the money that it requires. Therefore, a certain level of financial insurances which guarantees life’s necessities is crucial to well-being.  

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