What is Important in Life: Money or Happiness?
A poor rickshaw driver that lives in the slums of Kolkata, India said, “ he doesn’t consider himself poor, but the richest man in the world.” He works all day in an arduous job that involves bad-mannered people with minimal pay. With raw sewage oozing out the front, he returns to his house, made up of plastic sheets and bamboo sticks. Surprisingly, researchers determined that his happiness level averages the same as an average American. For years, Psychologists have studied patients who were suffering from depression or psychological illnesses. Their goal was to help patients get rid of their problems. In the 1980s, the study of happiness wasn’t a popular field in psychology because it was inapplicable. It was also believed that happiness can not be measured; nobody raised doubt about the measure of physiological illnesses. Since the world is constantly changing with technology, education, and health, people’s perception of happiness is also changing. Modern science began to look into how happiness works.
In the 1990s, happiness became a topic of interest and new fields of science called Positive Psychology began to develop. Positive Psychology is a scientific study that explores valued emotions which enables individuals to reflect on what makes life worth living. This gives rise to research questions, what are the building blocks of a life that’s not just free of psychological illness or depression, but a life that is filled with genuine happiness? Happiness can help you have better relationships, make more money, fight stress, set goals, boost your immune system, and people are going to like you better. Everybody has their own perspective of happiness, but aren’t 100% sure what it is? Most might have a clear description, but it would either lead them to success or failure.
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How it works
This study is going to inform people of the true meaning of happiness. It is also going to educate people on the factors that contribute to happiness and the most important determinants of happiness. In a world where the suicide rate is increasing and more than 300 million people suffer from depression, it is important to conduct happiness research that would spread awareness on how to be genuinely happy.
Economic growth and happiness
In our society, we were told that the way to be a good person is to make a lot of money. People with more money; the happier they will be, people with less money; the less happy they will be. This speculation continued for years before World War II because those who were living during that time could agree that life wasn’t easy without money. During the Great Depression, about 15 million people were unemployed and about half of the banks were closed. Those who kept their jobs watched their income shrink by a third. Wheat prices plummeted which resulted in farmers over-plowing to make ends meet. This eventually led to the Dust Bowl because of drought, high winds, and eroded soil. During that period, it was more about doing what’s best for the country economically, than well-being.
Within the past 50 years, after World War II, economic growth and happiness increased substantially. This statistic brings into question if economic growth correlates to happiness? We all can agree that economic growth or standards of living does not equal social welfare, but many believed that this theory is factual which is not the case. It depends on the circumstances, meaning social status, what jobs do you have, and how much money do you earn? As economic growth increase, happiness remained stagnant even though we obtained bigger houses and bigger cars. Why does economic growth increase happiness, but does not enhance it? One of the major reasons is people are comparing their absolute income to other people; relative income. Relative income is the measure of income in relation to other people in society. Absolute income is the overall amount of earnings you’ve received in a year. If people’s income does not increase the same as overall income, they would more likely to be less happy (Tsu, 2014). In Short, if a person’s absolute income is $20,000, while his peers are making $30,000, they are less happy. For example, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos own as much wealth as 164 million of the bottom half of the U.S population. They’re earning more money much faster than an average worker. It takes Jeff Bezos nine seconds to earn what Amazon workers do in a year. This causes an increase in the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. As humans, we are social and emotional creatures that are influenced by what is happening around us.
When a group witnesses another group increase in spending because of higher income, they’re more likely to spend as much as them even if their incomes are not equal. This refers back to the Economists James Duesenberry who created the relative income hypothesis that stated, people’s decisions on saving and spending are influenced by their income in relation to others. Research by Economists has shown that suicide rates increase when people’s absolute income decline compared to the country’s average (Tsu, 2014). This generates status anxiety where middle-aged white men are vulnerable to suicide; higher than those from other racial groups. According to The Economist, poor whites in America are viewed as fallen in status in relation to other people. They become less optimistic because financially, they are not doing any better than their parents.
Another important reason why economic growth increases happiness but does not enhance it because of the expected income effect. Expected income is people who compare income in relation to other people with the same conditions. If the actual income is higher than the expected income, the person will be happier. The expected income effect is when a person expected income is higher than their actual income, an increase in actual income wouldn’t enhance happiness. In that condition, the person would be unhappy (Tsu, 2014). This explains why happiness remained stagnant as the economy boomed. This relates to the Hedonic Treadmill, also referred to as the Hedonic adaptations that demonstrate humans will return to their baseline of happiness, despite good or bad events in our lives. When people’s income increase, their expectation increase as well. They are more prone to buying something bigger or better which shows signs of a spike in happiness, eventually returning to their stable level of happiness once they adapt to it.
In the beginning, I explained how tough it was economically during the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, and World War II. People’s attention was directed toward building the country, then well-being. It was difficult to obtain the same resources that we have today. When external circumstances improved, happiness increased. Now, we are capable of obtaining those basic needs, since it is less likely that we are going to go through the same adversities. Since our basic needs are easily accessible, we adapt much faster to what we have and want more. When money buys you out of homelessness, happiness change, but when you meet those basic needs, more money does not seem to buy happiness. This connects to Abraham Maslow who proposed the theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory was established during a time curing psychological illnesses was more important than happiness. Instead of psychological illnesses, he wanted to know what is needed to motivate human beings to experience satisfaction. Before we get any further into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we need to understand what defines the need and how it correlates to happiness. Need is basically something that you need in order to survive to continue things that you do on a daily basis. When you lack those basic needs, deficiency, it motivates the person to seek that “need“(Taormina & Gao, 2013). It affects a person’s well-being and happiness. There are five levels to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and one has to be completed in order to go to the next. Of course, the first two are basics needs that a person needs to survive which are psychological and safety-security. The psychological need is something that is needed for your body to work efficiently such as water, food, or warmth. The Safety need is something that provides a sense of security or protection from adversities. There are various examples of safety such as financial security or shelters. Referring back to Hedonic Treadmill, this goes to show how a lack of basic needs can alter your happiness, depending on your circumstances. However, it remains fixed when those needs are met.
Critics would say, what if someone does not accept their circumstances and want to improve? They are focusing on their intrinsic goals or extrinsic goals. It depends on the reason why you want to achieve that goal. The intrinsic goal is defined as goals that are meaning which fulfill your core needs or passion. This relates to personal growth, health, and close relationships. Extrinsic goals are defined as goals that you want to achieve outside of yourself such as fame, money, and status. For example, if you want to own a business to get rich, that is considered extrinsic. If you want to own a business because you’re passionate about it, it is an intrinsic goal. This refers back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Hedonic Treadmill because people who are motivated by extrinsic goals are constantly chasing something that is not a need such as validation, approval, or materialism. People would say, “ If I get this, then I will be happy or satisfied.” This statement is problematic because there is a never-ending cycle of money, approval, and materialistic objects. The level of wealth that you have, you will adapt to it and want more. People focus on extrinsic goals because they believe our external reward would be the solution to what is missing in our lives. For example, I’m going to buy a new wardrobe to boost my popularity or I’m going to become famous, so my ex can notice me. When our needs are not met, that’s when we chase extrinsic goals to fulfill them. Extrinsic goals are associated with psychological illnesses. Research has shown that people who are intrinsically motivated are happier than extrinsic people.
Intrinsic goals can also enhance happiness by strengthening the most important determinant of happiness; intentional activity. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, they recommend 150 minutes of physical activity per week, equivalent to 30 mins on five days per week (Gardner & Lilly, 2013). The problem is people are not meeting those requirements because of the lack of motivation, an overview of the process, and the sense of invisible results. Instead of acting on the intention that requires an effort that can be consciously felt, researchers are trying to figure out how to enhance motivation as a habit, where less of your consciousness is involved. Gardner and Lily (2013) concluded that a habit is more likely to form if their motivation is influenced by intrinsic than extrinsic goals. It fulfills human needs that promote self-esteem, self-worth, and well-being.