If you’ve lived long enough you’ll know that money doesn’t lead to happiness. And it won’t surprise you to hear that’s there’s plenty of research to support what you already know. We’re told that, at the individual-level, happiness doesn’t increase beyond a per capita income of $20,000, and, at the national-level, richer countries are no happier than poorer ones. The US economy, for example, more than doubled after 1950, yet happiness flatlined.
Most studies show that, if happiness is our aim, freedom is essential. Again, you probably know this. After all, more than 2,000 years ago, Epicurus told us that if we have money without freedom, we’re not going to be happy.
So, how can everyday people experience freedom?Money, alone, might not bring happiness but it could help to pay for what might lead to happiness: it enables people to buy stuff so that they might experience the feeling of freedom when they reach the checkout. Too bad that I can’t claim this observation as my own. Aristotle beat me to the punch by a couple of thousand years. Not only did he acknowledge that it was difficult to do, what he called, ‘fine deeds’ without resources but he also argued (logically): if freedom makes you happy and free people buy stuff, then buying stuff will make you happy.
Right now, in most Western countries (Australia, UK, USA), money is pretty cheap: interest rates are at record lows. We’re cashed up like never before, enabling us to find freedom as we spend. We’re able to buy (and pay for) a feeling of freedom. Advertisers are having a field day. We even buy stuff we don’t need to survive. The sale of all-wheel drives (SUVs), many of which never go off road, is at an all-time high. Soft drink and potato chips have become two of the world’s best-selling items. The quest for happiness goes on.
In The Affluent Society, John Kenneth Galbraith alerted us to the fact that companies were no longer just making products: they were manufacturing desires, too. While Galbraith was referring to post-War II, little seems to have changed. The key issue was not whether we needed what was being promoted, but to make us feel good about that product. All that we had to do was to believe what we’re told, spend, and happiness was a certain outcome.
Advertising for Christmas and the associated holiday season has begun in earnest. Given the huge increase in spending that is usually associated with this event, can we expect an increase in happiness?
You can find out more about Neil Flanagan when you visit http://www.neil.com.au and while you’re there you can download a free copy of one of his bestselling books BLINK! The Speed of Life (How to add years to your life and life to your years).
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