Holiday Season Spoiler Alert: Happiness Is Not for Sale
Happiness doesn't translate into materialistic or experiential terms.
Posted Nov 28, 2018
Much attention has been paid to the relationship of happiness to another thing of great interest to most Americans: money. It has been generally believed that happiness is strongly correlated with prosperity, both personal and national, but this too has turned out to be a generally false assumption. A different set of challenges emerge with upward mobility, anyone who has experienced it can tell you, with much evidence to suggest that both wealth and success may improve one’s quality of life but are not likely to produce a happier person. To that point, if there is a single thing to know about the relationship between happiness and money, it is that the latter typically cannot purchase the former. Despite what Madison Avenue has told us, happiness is not for sale, something that both marketers and consumers are determined to ignore. As with any positive development in life, a new thing or experience may increase one’s happiness quotient, but it will undoubtedly be a relatively brief bump versus a sustained rise. Our consumerist society has thus led many a happiness seeker astray, with advertisers routinely dangling the emotion like a carrot before us. While the product or service may indeed offer some pleasure or contentment, any measure of genuine happiness will not be forthcoming as the feeling simply does not translate into materialistic or experiential terms and vice versa.
Given all this, one has to question Americans’ inclination to work harder to make more money in order to become happier. Inscribed in our national charter, happiness is no doubt a very America idea, but the ways in which most of us pursue it are not very well suited to creating it. Our system of free market capitalism (the American Way of Life) and aspirational ethos (the American Dream) are actually better designed to generate stress than happiness, I believe, with the pressures of modern life not conducive to promoting a state of well-being. Those who have dropped out of the “rat race” are more likely to find a sense of inner peace, history shows, implying that our competitive society is at best not ideal, and at worst, fundamentally flawed in terms of seeding the possibility of happiness.