We all know the term “money can’t buy happiness”. It is as cliché as any, yet the expression has undoubtedly lost its significance. These days it seems money can indeed buy happiness. Even the invaluable aspects of our lives such as love and camaraderie that were once deemed priceless can now be sold for a price. As culture has developed our perspectives on money has changed and has placed far more emphasis and empowerment in money. Pop culture has redefined the measurement of success to almost strictly an individual’s financial status. This is clearly depicted in today’s media where hip-hop artists and star athletes proudly flaunt their financial wealth through their extravagant lifestyles. Expensive clothing, lavish homes, and excessive spending have become trends that signify the pinnacle of accomplishment. So much emphasis is put on material wealth that our minds have been conditioned to equate success and happiness to lavish living. Consequently, society has loss sight of the true meaning of happiness and in the midst of its struggle has enthroned money, making the phrase “ money can’t buy happiness” completely obsolete and meaningless. Does money really bring happiness?
Not too long ago, I met with an old friend who had recently done some traveling and told me about his travels throughout southeastern Asia. After describing all the wild parties and delicious food, my friend mentioned something very profound about what he observed in perhaps one of the poorest countries, Burma. Despite being a society riddled with poverty, corruption, and overall turmoil, Burma wasn’t as miserable as my friend expected it to be. He wasn’t met with a sobering scene of sad, hopeless faces and starving children with outstretched arms begging for a bite to eat. Instead he was greeted with smiling faces and contagious laughter. However, there was something very curious about this picture. How can people be so content while poverty is so strongly pronounced in their lives and in their community? When did scarcity become the status quo? And why is that okay, if at all? Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is how can Americans live in luxury and such abundance, yet still be so unhappy when people half a world away are content with life despite living in extremely dismal and harsh conditions?
All of a sudden it doesn’t shock me that the United States was the 20th happiest country in the world in a study surveying the happiness of countries around the world. In the same survey from the World Database of Happiness, Costa Rica turned out to be the happiest place in the world (out of 148 countries). Although Costa Rica is very beautiful with miles of pristine beaches and acres of protected rain forests, the country is not a global leader in any sense. It doesn’t have a particularly impressive GDP nor does it play a major role in world politics. After closer examination, Costa Rica seems to just root itself in humble living, which seems to have been key to their happiness. The island country can owe some of its happiness to its cultural emphasis on friend and family rather than fortune and fame. It chooses social capital over financial capital. In 1949, the country even dissolved their military to instead invest in the country’s education and conservation. It’s relieving to see at least one country has had its priorities in the right place and is happy.
I too, once strongly believed that money would bring happiness. I thought the big paycheck would buy happiness in the forms of expensive cars, grandiose homes, and pretentious clothing. Recently, my beliefs were shaken and my whole outlook on life was set to change when I received an offer to work at a company in San Francisco for a generous salary that seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately for me it was too good to be true. The job would require me to work nearly 90 arduous hours a week for six days a week. At first thought the decision to make a lot of money seems easy, but only after weighing the pros and cons did I realize how difficult a decision it would be. Naturally, the question came down to whether money could buy happiness? Would it be worth it for me to move to a city I hardly knew with few to no friends and work tirelessly day and night everyday for a lot of money?
I didn’t think so. What is money worth if I can’t enjoy it? My free time is valuable, and my family and friends even more so. Some things are just priceless and money isn’t one of them.