The Truth about Money and Happiness

“Money Can’t Buy Happiness,” say folks mostly from the middle class. Rich and poor people know it grants tons of happiness and scientists also know it does… to a point. The point is about $75,000.00.

MoneyPileI see money buy me happiness nearly every day. I buy artichokes and basmati rice and salmon. When my son wants to own a book series instead of waiting for pieces of it to come at the Library, I indulge him.  Because I can tell myself I am encouraging reading and supporting authors.

But it’s the bigger things that really do it. My husband and I don’t have to argue about bills that need paid. When sewage backed into my basement.  I paid $400 to fix it and never worried where it would come from.  When our car died, we had a choice — fix it or get a newer used car without money limiting either option.

Let’s also discuss the privilege of money with children.  Statistically, there are probable differences between my son and the boy his age in the one bedroom apartment next door.

A child from a lower income is twice as likely to be in poor health (low birth weight, lead poisoning & obesity as examples). Plus he is 1.3X more likely to have a learning disability. My son does actually have some small cognitive issues. But let’s just imagine outcomes for my kid, who is slow to read at his private Waldorf school, vs. the kid in public school from a house with $17K income. My kid is also less likely to knock a girl up out of wedlock and more likely to finish high school.

What we’re really talking about here, with money, is a dramatic reduction in stress and fear. And, in my world anyway, the opposite of stress is contentment and the opposite of fear is love.

We are also dealing with a dramatic increase in privilege. My kid doesn’t go to college, I help him start a business.  Apartment kid doesn’t go to college, he works in food service.

What the saying really means is that suffering is universal and money doesn’t guarantee no suffering. True.  Paris Hilton suffers.

 “Don’t serve the time; let the time serve you.”  Paris Hilton
“Don’t serve the time; let the time serve you.” Paris Hilton

But money’s privilege provides resilience. Paris’ Scrooge McDuck pile of cash made sure that after she got charged with possession and then a DUI sent her to jail, it was only for a few weeks. She was traumatized (suffering), but she moved on with life and “grew” from her mistakes.

Life is over for Sheri
Life is over for Sheri

There is no cash pile for Sheri Diane Jones, who got 25 years in prison for probation violations stemming from her possession of a controlled substance. Her life will not move on.

In other identical cash v. no cash sentencing, we have Donna McCloughlin who stole jewelry like Lindsay Lohan, and then violated parole, like Lindsay Lohan. Lindsay got 30 days and served a few hours. Donna got 4 years and is serving 4 years.

Money also keeps your life from spiraling out of control when small debts add up. This article in the New Yorker: Get Out of Jail Inc. details the plight of Harriet Cleveland, who got traffic tickets after driving without a license, which she didn’t get because she could not afford the mandatory car insurance, but wanted to keep driving to work.

"I know I done wrong."
“I know I done wrong.” – Harriet Cleveland

She could afford to pay one of the tickets and did, and stopped driving, but another ticket remained unpaid and the fees began to pile up, not just for the original offense, but also for private company run parole fees. Her $200 hundred dollars in tickets became over $4000.00 in 2 years. And although she made over $3K in payments., late fees kept her 2,500.00 in debt. So, she went to jail and now likely will lose her home.

So, let’s speak truthfully about money and its privileges and joys.  It does buy happiness. And often so much more.

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