Virtual Voices

Money doesn't buy happiness

Books

That headline is a cliché, but a Syracuse University faculty member who crunches poll numbers is backing up that assumption with data. I asked Professor Arthur C. Brooks whether people who say they're happy really are, and he backs up that belief with reports on brainwaves and such, If he's right, what's in his new book, Gross National Happiness (Basic), is important.

WOW: What do you mean by writing that "Happiness is a gift from above"?

ACB: Faith is an incredible predictor--and cause--of happiness. Religious people of all faiths are much, much happier than secularists, on average. In 2004, 43 percent of those who attended a house of worship at least once a week said they were "very happy" with their lives, versus 23 percent of those who attended seldom or never.

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WOW: Later, you ask, "Does money buy happiness?" and arrive at some conclusions based on U.S. data but also comparisons between people in France and Mexico…

ACB: It probably isn't too surprising to learn that money does not buy happiness. This is true as long as people are above the level of basic subsistence, which is true of virtually 100% of Americans. That's one reason why America's astounding economic prosperity, which is a wonderful thing and something I believe we should be deeply grateful for, hasn't raised our happiness levels much over the past decades, on average. It also explains why a country like Mexico, which is a lot poorer than, say, France, can also be happier: In Mexico, 63 percent of adults said they were very happy or completely happy. In France, only 35 percent gave one of these responses.

WOW: According to your chapter on "the secret to buying happiness," is it better to give or receive?

ACB: As a researcher, I always go where the data lead me. But I will confess to rejoicing a little every time I find that the data back up the Scriptures. Such is the case for charity. It is abundantly clear that when people give to others, they get happier, healthier, and even more financially prosperous.

WOW: Theologian Francis Schaeffer criticized Christians who make "personal peace and affluence" their goal. Keeping in mind the lives of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul, what kind of happiness should be our goal?

ACB: I can't stress enough that according to all the evidence, shooting for affluence or material comforts as a source of happiness is an error. As we see in the life and teachings of Christ and the prophets, happiness comes from an exercise of our good values, including a focus on service to others. Proper values are what bring a happy, well-ordered life. These things also bring prosperity. But to try to get personal happiness from material affluence is like trying to build a tall skyscraper by starting with the top floor.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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