Can Money Buy Happiness?



By Carolyn Shields, sitting in a cafe that smells of cat

GDP is not a bad measure of output from a nation when it is taken and studied from short periods of time, though it does underestimate adjustments of leisure and the estimates for improvements.

Similarly, happiness, like GDP, is easiest to measure in short term, but we don't really want that, do we? Don't we want to look into the far future and see ourselves happy? We do not want an economy based on luck, we want to predict what to expect. I want factual, confirmed proof that I will be happy, dang it.

But give me a lollipop right now and I'd be happy. PMSing? A candy bar would be delightful. Instant satisfaction. But we must not look just at the variable (which is in my case, more often than not food), but how inherently good that variable is. 

So we want long term happiness. What factors will play into achieving this?  Well, one, income. As a broke college student who lives off of canned chicken noodle soup and coffee, with forty job applications floating around with no response, I don't really want to hear this as I sit in the back of my Econ class, chewing my pen and writing these notes.

But income matters. Check out this snazzy graph:


As income increases, so does one's level of happiness. This isn't too shocking though. You would kind of guess that an editor at Verily is a bit happier than the woman making McGriddles, that Tony Stark, the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist cheekily smiles a bit more than the man who makes his latte. But at around $20,000-30,000, this level of satisfaction levels out slightly.

But if this is true, and we see income/minimum wage rising in recent years, then why hasn't our nation's level of happiness kept increasing? It's a solid fact that we are financially better off in America than we were years ago (poverty fell by 83% between 1890-1960).

But cue this graph: 


GDP and overall financial wellbeing has increased drastically in the latter half of the 20th century, but average life satisfaction has remained totally flat.

Oh dat progress paradox!

But though having a job is the most significant economic factor, there are a few other things that have more weight on us when it comes to measuring happiness. If income continually rises, we are constantly struggling to keep up with the Jones'. There is simply no gain from consumption in the long run because we always want more, and we are constantly competing and comparing. It's time to look at other factors if we truly desire a lasting happiness, despite the proven statistics about the Income & Happiness Correlation.

So. There are three key non-financial variables that matter far more to ensure long term happiness than just income. These variables consist of religious participation, charitable giving and volunteering, as well as a substantial relationship or marriage, whose approximate worth alone is equivalent to $200,000. Try that on for size.

The price tag you can aptly place on marriage is valued at $200,000.

But the thing is, these three variables have drastically declined in the latter half of the 20th century, so of course national happiness did not increase. Thank you, Margaret Sanger and Modern Media. The decline in these variables outweighs the gains in consumption and offset these other factors. John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus that man cannot be understood on the sole basis of economics, nor defined by his class membership, but within culture, and our culture is not particularly fond of these three variables on which our happiness depends so much on.

We desperately need a revival to bring about the necessity of religious participation, volunteering, and stable relationships if we really want our country to have those authentic, cheesy grins our grandparents had in swing dancing photos. Our generation is working hard for a happiness that numbers swallow and only lasts as long as the consumption of a cheeseburger. We want truth. We want predictability in our long term goals, and though more digits on our paycheck will contribute to it, it can't beat the weight of those three variables which will truly guarantee lasting happiness.