The first time I heard Chris Jansons’ song “Buy me a Boat” I was grinning from ear to ear. It’s both funny and true. Money and happiness are the two things we want most. Many of us believe that the more money we have, the happier we would be. The question we have to ask ourselves what is happiness. Happiness is subjective and psychologists define it as “a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions”. As it turns out money can buy happiness, at least up to some point. In his book entitled “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence”, published in 1974 Professor Easterlin found that “high incomes do correlate with happiness, but long term, increased income doesn’t correlate with increased happiness”. This is now referred to as the Easterlin Paradox.
To be happy one needs to have health, financial wellbeing and a good social structure. It seems that once basic needs are met for food, clothing, shelter and entertainment, the happiness gap between the rich and poor shrinks. Research conducted by the renounced economist Angus Deaton and the noble prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman confirmed this paradox and they found the magic amount that correlates with happiness. In the United Sates this number is $75,000. People who earned more than $75,000 were no less happy than people earning more than $75000. Those earning less than $75000 were found to be less happy. They concluded that “… high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness…” This actual dollar amount may change as the years go by but we know now that it is possible to determine the level of income that will affect our happiness. Beyond this level it seems that impact of money on our level of happiness is inconsequential.
Money may not be able to buy you happiness, but I think it is safe to say many of us would rather be rich and unhappy than poor and unhappy. At least if you’re rich you can do it in style and be physically comfortable. All jokes aside, happiness is serious business. The World Happiness Report, which was first launched in 2012, is now being used as a “measure of social progress and the goal of public policy”. Policy makers are using this data to inform their social policies to ensure that people have better lives. The report highlighted the powerful influence that social and cultural norms have on individuals. This ranges from family, friends and the community you live in, all impact on your level of happiness.
The WHR recognizes the need for policies that “enrich the social fabric” and it recognizes the “power of empathy”. Every human wants to be validated. You want your existence to be recognized, as an individual you want to be respected and heard. This is the same for any community. When policy makers and politicians start taking these factors into account in their platforms and policies we would see higher levels of happiness in our community because people will start having more positive social interactions and less negative ones.
Canada is one of the most tolerant countries in the world and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has just raised the bar even higher by appointing the most diverse cabinet in history. This new liberal government is doing a tremendous job of further deepening and in some cases fostering for the first time a real sense of inclusion for all the varieties of Canadians. From first nations, minorities, people with disabilities, young, old, men and women everyone is represented in this cabinet. This is sure to have a positive effect on the various communities across Canada. I suspect that people may start experiencing more positive experiences than negative ones.
What does this all mean for us? First, we have to understand that money is a precursor to get us on the road to happiness. It allows us to meet basic needs and desires, but that is as far as it goes. Having more money can guarantee you a physically comfortable life, but it will not guarantee that you have more positive emotions than negative ones. No amount of money can make someone more trusting, more loving, more forgiving, less angry, less jealous or less coveting. On a personal level, we need to find a non-material, non-financial path to happiness.
Secondly, we all need more pro happiness policy makers. We need to ensure that the leaders we elect are the ones that would work towards enriching the social fabric of society rather than act as a divisive force. Let’s face it, we are all here on this planet and we have to co-exist. The same rights and privileges you want for yourself, other want as well. We all have a different perspective of how we see the world and we just have to find a way where we can all co-exists peacefully. Everyone benefits when people are happier, less crime, less harm to the environment and generally a more civil society. The old adage still rings true today treat others as you want to be treated. Empathy is a powerful force that can heal a lot of social evils and in the process lead to positive economic gain. Only good can come of treating everyone with respect and dignity.
We can think of happiness as a house of wonderfully positive curated emotions located at the end of a beautiful driveway. In this analogy money can only get you to the driveway. It may even take you to the front door, but it is not the key that unlocks the house. The community you live in and the policies that your officials implement helps to ensure that there are no potholes in the driveway so that your ride is smoother. At the end of it all, no amount of money or government policy will make the individual happy, but both assist in getting the individual on the path to happiness. The rest…well, that’s a whole other story and it’s completely in your hands.