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Happiness Has a Minimum Price

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I was cold and miserable sitting at the bus stop, waiting for a ride to see my doctor. The bus was 40 minutes late when it finally arrived, and I knew that the physician’s staff wouldn’t be very sympathetic to my transportation problems. As I squeezed onto a crowded city bus and stood pressed between other irritated passengers, I was remembering how much happier I was when I could drive myself wherever I wanted to go, whenever I needed to.

John Stossel reported on ABC’s 20/20 that it is a myth that money makes us happier. He pointed to various surveys, studies and good old common sense to show that the rich aren’t really much happier than the rest of us. It sounds comforting to people that are constantly comparing themselves to the lifestyles shown on MTV Cribs and E!’s It’$ Good to be… that happiness is still available to them, even if they don’t own a Bentley or bathe in Cristal champagne.

I’ve had a fair amount of money, and I’ve been broke. Being broke sucks ass, and no philosophical argument about the relative value of material things makes up for not being able to pay the electric bill or buy necessary medications for your sick kids. Wealth is no guarantee of happiness, but poverty will definitely ruin your day.

The problem I have with the upper class viewpoint of John Stossel and much of the other media is that the majority of people don’t live that lifestyle. Stossel’s report says that “more money makes people significantly happier only if their family income’s below $30,000, but by $50,000, money makes no difference.”

Almost 60% of American households have an income of less than $50,000, according to the US Census Bureau. The 2002 figures (the most recent available) show that over 63 million American households have a combined income of under $50K. 40 million households earn below $30,000. That’s the group in which it is admitted that additional money makes people “significantly happier.”

So Stossel apparently looks on 6 out of 10 people as being irrelevant. What he should be saying is that money doesn’t make people who already have enough of it any happier than those that have a lot more. For most Americans, more money would significantly improve their lives and make them happier and healthier. Imagine how happy money would make the billions of people in the world that will never come close to the standard of living enjoyed by the average American.

Millionaire journalists make lousy reporters on issues that affect most people. Maybe if I lived in a Manhattan townhouse and earned a seven figure salary, I might see things their way. I’m certainly open to such an experiment. I bet that would make a great 20/20 segment. Anyone know an ABC producer that I can pitch the idea to? I promise not to be any happier.

Also published at wKenShow.

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  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    stossel is a total hack…and abc should be ashamed of themselves for not giving him the boot after completly made stuff up a coupla years about the ‘dangers’ of organic produce.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Ken, having less than you need does indeed suck the largest and most carbuncular ass. I have ridden the roller coaster and despise the dips. With the cost of living in the real world, I would raise the bar to about $100K to where more money starts to make less difference. In any major urban area $50K buys about dick.

    I truly hope things pick up for you, they seem to be slowly improving for us.

  • JR

    Money might make some of us happier, but most of us don’t seem to know how to spend it. Yesterday I sat in a bus stopped on the freeway for an hour because some bozo apparently thought money could buy him the ability to drive in the snow.

    If you spend your money on something that makes you more dependent on money, you might not get any happier. But you will end up that much unhappier when the money stops coming in.

  • Jonathan

    Money makes me happier.
    But I don’t have a car or anything like that, I just like making money.
    I’m only 17, and live with my parents. The only thing I don’t pay for is rent and electricity and that crap, I pay for my internet and I pay for my food. I’m barely ever home anyways, I’m always at my college or working. The best part about having money though is buying expensive booze. That makes me happiest :)

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditures twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
    – Charles Dickens

    “The pursuit of happiness is never-ending; happiness lies in the pursuit.”
    – Saul Alinsky

    “Each time we grab hold of a thing by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
    – John Muir

    “I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen.”
    – Abd Er-Rahman III of Spain, 960 C.E.

    “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can make misery more bearable.”
    – Unknown

    “Independence is my happiness and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world and my religion is to do good.”
    – Thomas Paine

    “Fame or integrity: which is more important? Money or happiness: which is more valuable? Success or failure: which is more destructive?”
    – Lao Tzu

    “The truth is that all of us attain the greatest success and happiness possible in this life whenever we use our native capacities to their greatest extent.”
    – Dr. Smiley Blanton

    “The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.”
    – Albert Einstein