At the turn of the New Year, an acquaintance wrote a long piece on Facebook which expressed his disillusionment with the human race, accusing us of being liars and users in whom he had no trust. Needless to say, I thought his judgment overly harsh and wondered that a man with so much career success, good health, a loving wife, financial security and a nice place in which to live could be so bitter. What would make him happy, I wondered.
I suspect he doesn’t know. He might reply that he needs more of what he already has — greater success, more money and an even classier place to live. Whatever his answer, his discontent would be incomprehensible to me for I remember how my mother as a young woman who worked 3 jobs to keep food on the table radiated solar pleasure if she could afford a 10-cent lipstick.
We humans haven’t a clue about happiness, apparently, though research is turning up some interesting discoveries. One of them is that money and a high social position doesn’t make a person happy. If anything, it leaves him or her feeling less. Keely Muscatell a UCLA neuroscientist has data which shows “wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy.” (“What wealth does to your soul,” excerpted from an article in The New Republic, by The Week, 12/31/14 pgs. 32-33.) Other research bears this truth out. Those sporting expensive cars are the least likely to honor pedestrian crossings. In hospitals, the wealthy will take candy from bowls reserved for sick children. And in any other endeavor, the rich are more likely to cheat. (Ibid pg. 33)
Recently, a survey of billionaires asked participants to identify what would make them happy. “All of them said they needed two or three times more than they had to feel happier.” (Ibid, pg. 33) Oh, that billionaires could be so wrong. A windfall of $50 might make someone poor happy because a small account of money has a great effect upon their lives. But a “rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness.” (Ibid pg. 33)
One exception to the wealth effect exists, however. “Spending it on others increases happiness.” (Ibid pg. 33)
Aristotle said that man is a social animal. We live best when we are considerate of those around us. Money as an end in itself leaves us lonely. So, here’s a lesson for the New Year. To be happy, fill someone’s else’s need and don’t worry about being used. The giver always gains more than the receiver.