Guest post provided by the inimitable Lauren Campisano, undergraduate psychology major at The College of New Jersey.
“The futile, the futile…it outweighs the beautiful” -- Say Anything
In a world full of people craving emotional intimacy, music seems to be among the healthiest of outlets.Certain songs just speak to people and often have the uncanny ability to capture complex thoughts and emotions that are otherwise difficult to describe. Even artists like Justin Beiber have the capacity to speak to some audience, as evidenced by staggering record sales and even in spite of the use of ridiculous lyrics like “Swag swag swag, on you/ Chillin’ by the fire while we eat fondue.” But who’s judging…?
For people concerned with relating to music on a deeper, more personal level, artists like Say Anything, an LA-based band fronted by the eccentric Max Bemis, consistently produce songs with lyrics that offer listeners that much sought-after emotional connection. Released in 2004, Say Anything’s critically acclaimed debut album …Is a Real Boy remains one of the band’s best-selling albums to date and is partly responsible for their admirable following. Listing nineteen songs that range from the silly to the sentimental, …Is a Real Boy captures a full range of emotions jam-packed into little over an hour of playtime.
One song in particular, “The Futile,” puts forth an interesting notion, as seen in the aforementioned quote: Perhaps the futile things in life—those useless interactions and moments in life that yield no monetary value but are rich in experience—far outweigh the beautiful life luxuries many people associate with true happiness. While this may be one interpretation of the quote, it is important to note that there are many other contributing factors that shape an individual’s happiness, aside from money. This analysis, however, will focus on the role money plays in determining individual happiness. That being said, popular culture seems to dictate that shiny sports cars, ridiculous vacations, and having enough money to “chill by the fire and eat fondue” while the rest of the world is slaving away to make ends meet seems like a sure-fire way of reaching happiness—but is it really? While it is true that people have a long tradition of overestimating the significance of the “beautiful” things in life as a means of providing happiness, empirical evidence investigating the importance of money on happiness may suggest that Bemis and the band are on to something.
As such, what exactly is the impact of money on happiness, anyway? Popular opinion suggests that happiness grows in direct proportion to a person’s bank statement, which explains the existence of a multi-million dollar lottery business and the cut-throat nature of the American job industry. It only fits that money must have the power to solve it all and bring happiness to every person in the land!
According to a study by Aknin, Norton, and Dunn (2009), there was merely a modest positive relationship between actual household income and happiness—the key word being modest. In addition, across two national samples, it was found that people vastly overestimated the emotional costs associated with being poor by a margin of roughly 100%, clearly showing just how deluded people are in viewing money’s impact on happiness . While participants accurately estimated the modest impact higher levels of wealth have on happiness, they consistently and erroneously believed individuals of lower income levels are less happy, which research shows is simply not the case . Further testing also revealed that substantial increases in income did not yield a coupled increase in happiness, demonstrating, once again, the fact that participants envisioned a tighter association between money and happiness than the actual happiness data justified . Clearly, a discrepancy exists between people’s drive for money in an attempt to be happier and its actual effect on happiness.
So if money doesn’t exactly make someone a happier person, perhaps the goods it buys does…? Again, not quite. In actuality, a person’s ability to buy the “beautiful” things in life, flat screen TVs, for example, won’t lead to happiness . According to research conducted by Norton and Dunn (2008), people don’t feel a significant, long-lasting sense of happiness after showering themselves in gifts and luxuries. Instead, individuals who share wealth by giving gifts to others actually report significant increases in happiness when compared to their more selfish peers . With that, Say Anything receives another inkling of credibility: Giving may seem like a futile action in the sense it’s often financially expensive and no appreciable benefit usually results, but, in terms of happiness, it still outweighs spoiling oneself with beautiful things.
In another point awarded to Say Anything, research from Quoidbach et al. (2010) suggests that money interferes with people’s ability to savor positive emotions and experiences . In a large sample of working adults, it was found that wealthier individuals reported lower savoring ability—that is, the ability to extract pleasure from the mundane joys of life . Simple things, like enjoying a chocolate bar, feeling the sun shine after a week of rain, making fun of Justin Beiber—may not bring about a comparable amount of happiness to a person with more money, which raises the question: If wealth can decrease mundane joys in life, can if affect more important life events as well? While that question remains to be solved, one thing is clear: Perhaps having access to the best things in life may actually undermine one’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures . And what fun is that?
The good news for Say Anything’s credibility: Tesearch seems to suggest that the futile things in life may actually outweigh the beautiful. Through the analysis of money’s effect on happiness, it is clear that having more of it does not necessarily guarantee an increase in happiness, and that perhaps appreciating life’s futile things—giving generous gifts to others, for example—may resonate stronger on the happiness charts than spoiling ourselves. With that, financially-strapped people around the world should rejoice, for money isn’t as important as it seems. As any millionaire will tell you, drying one’s eyes on $100 bills gets old fast.
1. Aknin, L. B., Norton, M. I., & Dunn, E. W. (2009). From wealth to well-being? Money matters, but less than people think. The Journal of Positive Psychology,4(6)
2. Prashad, Sharna. (2008). Pursuit of Happiness. Canadian Business, 81(14), 20.
3. Quoidbach, J., Dunn, E. W., Petrides, K. V., & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness.Psychological Science, 21(6), 759-763.