It Won’t Make You Happy

We think it will. We live as if it will. But it won’t.

As I write these words, I question whether I believe them. My rational being knows that money and stuff we acquire don’t make people happy. But my emotional being doesn’t believe that for a second.

Neither side thinks poverty makes for happiness. There is nothing happy about being hungry or lacking for shelter or medical care. But extreme poverty isn’t what I’m talking about. It’s the things we give up in exchange for more than we need.

The stuff is visible. That which is sacrificed isn’t.

Many people work incredible hours. Some spend countless days on the road, too. And there are no off days for many people. 24/7/365 isn’t rare.

When I was a kid, my teachers said we’d be working less. We’re working more. Something didn’t go as planned.

When I think back to the time of my youth, when the world moved more slowly than it does today, it seems people had more time for each other. But then somehow we concluded that wasn’t time well spent — that it was more important to be using that time to earn money. Which in turn would allow us to buy more stuff. And acquire more things — like status.

The average size of our houses in my lifetime has quadrupled. When I was a youngster, most people I knew didn’t have garages. Now it’s not unusual to see new homes being built with four-car garages.

When I was a college freshman, hardly anyone on my dorm floor had a car. Between then and now colleges have had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and incur large amounts of debt, to build additional parking lots and garages on their campuses.

There is nothing wrong with more. In fact, standards of living should rise as productivity and societal wealth increase. Yet I can’t help but wonder where it’s gotten us.

Are people any happier today? The evidence suggests not.

Are they living any longer? Until recently, life expectancy was consistently rising in America. Now it’s falling. But it’s still much higher than it used to be.

Vera, when I look back and consider the price I paid in exchange for the money and things, it’s not obvious to me that it was a good deal. The toll may not be visible to others, but it was substantial.

When I receive emails from clients on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, I’m reminded how many jobs consume people’s lives. People have even stopped talking about work-life balance. They know work has won.

I’m reminded how fast the world is moving. I’m reminded of the deep insecurities people experience — insecurity that propels them to compete and do whatever their employers value and desire. Many people rightly fear losing their job and the way of life they’ve constructed if they’d dare not to participate in this wild rush forward.

Much depends on keeping the income stream flowing. And rising. Yet it seems no one can ever have enough. It seems the very concept of enough is obsolete.

One thing I’ve discovered along the way, Vera: you can be happy when you have enough, but all the money and stuff in the world may not be enough.

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