How much money buys happiness?
Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell we can now say that increased wealth correlates with an increase in happiness up to an annual salary of $75,000 USD—that’s $100,000 Canadian (See Good Teachers Are Always Underdogs). After $100,000 CAD, more money produces less and less happiness, until wealth eventually causes more problems than pleasures.
= < $100,000 CAD
How often do we put pressure on the average millennial by telling her/im s/he should be happy, convincing her/im to believe, like one of Dr. Szasz’s clients, that being unhappy is a sign of mental illness? How often do we oblige him/er to put on an endless display of alacrity and to answer every “How are you?” with Pollyanna enthusiasm? Underlying these prescriptions for required happiness is the worst of all proscriptions: “Sammy Jane, you do not have the right to be unhappy!” At some point, we all have to admit the obvious. Being bored, irritated, frustrated and enraged are the normal, sane, appropriate responses to situations which are boring, irritating, frustrating and enraging—if you have not encountered these situations in your life, you are not from this planet.
We are left with the question: “How much happiness is enough?” Strange question? I hope so.
Being unhappy is not a mental illness
Listening to a lecture given by Thomas Szasz, the psychiatrist who denied the existence of anything that could be called a “mental illness” (see also Terrorism and Madness: Between Sympathy and Understanding), I was struck by his description of people who came to him thinking that they were mentally ill because they were not happy. As Szasz reported, being unhappy is a perfectly reasonable, sane response to some of life’s events and circumstances.
The pressure to be happy causes depression
I take as exceptions to the rule the numerous stories we hear of parents making their children direly unhappy, pressuring them to the point of neurosis, break-down and alienation over every choice imaginable from friends to habits to lifestyles to marriage partners to careers and everything in between. For the average parent, myself included, wanting the offspring to be happy—no matter what else—is the number one priority. However, I have at times found myself wondering if wanting your progeny to be happy isn’t just another way of putting pressure on them. (Overthinking!? It’s what I do.)
Sometimes being unhappy is healthy
Imposing our view of happiness
The real risk of parents insisting on their kids being happy is that the things we ancestors might imagine as the precursors and prerequisites to happiness might not actually be what will make our heirs happy. The prerequisites we imagine might actually be the things that would make us happy—if only our kids would do them. We parents might unwittingly be insisting that our kids make us happy under the guise of our wanting them to be happy.
"The child is father to the man"
Happiness is not just a parenting issue. True Romantic that I am, I happen to believe Wordsworth’s claim that “the Child is father to the Man.” In most cases, adults have a lot more to learn about happiness from children than the other way around. (Ever notice how many adults worry about spoiling children but never about spoiling themselves.) In the adult world, happiness and its prerequisites have become addictions.
Definition of addiction
I once heard a specialist in the field describe addiction this way: “You’re not hungry, but when someone places a bowl of salty peanuts near you, you decide to have one. The taste of the first peanut creates a craving for more. That is the process of addiction.” As I listened, I wasn’t sure if this was just an analogy or if he meant it was possible to become addicted to peanuts. No doubt the obesity statistics make it obvious that food is a North American addiction. The desire for food is not created by hunger, but by food itself.
Sometimes addiction is the norm
I have to admit I guffawed when I read that Tiger Woods was in rehab being treated for sex addiction. The idea that sex can be an addiction makes sense, I guess, but we live in a society where sex addiction is the norm. Men are advised to take little blue pills to maintain the addiction, and women are expected to support the cause with purchases from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. I’ve heard that men think about sex every seven minutes (not sure who gathered these statistics—see Lies, Lies, Nothing but Lies ). That sounds about right, not because men are naturally inclined to having sex every seven minutes, but because seven minutes is a typical interval between exposures to some sexual stimulus—ad, image, scene, smell, physical person or all of the above—in our society.
The concept of enough
I am still fascinated by E.F. Schumacher’s concept of “enough” from Small is Beautiful. (See Good Teachers Are Always Underdogs.) How much of each of the things that are supposed to make us happy is enough? How much food, sex, comfort, attention, fame, power, status, beauty, knowledge, admiration or love is enough? How can we answer this question when each of these pleasures and affects can become an addiction; in fact, already are addictions in our culture and society?
Happiness is the absence of pain
On a Mediterranean cruise recently, I was struck by how many passengers—myself included—were beginning to find the endless luxury and pampering oppressive. The philosopher Schopenhauer argued that happiness was the temporary absence of pain. According to Schopenhauer, the achievement of our desires makes us sated and bored causing the endless cycle of pain to begin again.
Why are the Danes the happiest people in the world?
Year after year, Denmark is identified as the happiest country in the world. The Danes, however, do not seem like a smiley, joyous people. Analysis reveals that the basis of their happiness is their low, and therefore achievable, expectations. The key, then, to being happy is knowing how much is enough.