Mort Mather Author Writer Organic Farmer Philosopher Thinker Restauranteur

How to improve your life and save the world.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is there a link between money and happiness?

A simple yes or no is problematic because defining happiness in general is probably impossible. As I read various studies on this illusive subject, illusive because it is subjective, I am interested in something I label profound happiness as opposed to something that comes and goes with wealth or the weather. Profound happiness is a state of being. That is not to say it doesn’t also have ups and downs but it is based on a concordance between how we are living our lives and how we believe we should be living.

Where I find support for my belief that happiness is not linked to money or anything material is in experiences like Joseph Campbell’s; who says his happiest time was during the Depression when he had no money, lived in a rooming house where the rent was forgiven and read borrowed books; and Eric Weiner’s experiences in The Geography of Bliss where he found his own happiness affected positively in Bhutan and Iceland and negatively in Moldova. It is time for another caveat. I don’t know what works for anyone else, what it is like inside anyone else. I write about what works for me, what I have learned about myself within this thing called life, because reading about and observing other people has proved helpful to me and I hope my thoughts might prove helpful to another.

I am convinced that what we need is air, water, food and shelter, not money. Those are indisputable for keeping our bodies alive. It can be debated whether or not our soul has needs. The existence of a soul is debatable but I’m going with duality here—body and soul. My soul needs companionship and something else. I’m not sure what—to be needed, work, a goal, a project, something meaningful to do? I am reminded of retired people who volunteered for me on a project and how grateful they were for the opportunity I gave them to volunteer. When I would thank them they would invariably say, “No, Thank YOU.” However I also know some retired people who do little more than read the paper every day. We are all different.

For me, yes, I keep trying to retire and now, in the winter, when the garden is put to bed, I don’t want to work any more than I have to at the restaurant. I want to kick back and read. But there is another thing gnawing at me, some need I feel to be doing more. I think about volunteering or, perhaps running for a town or state office. I keep talking myself out of it yet I feel that it would feel good to be involved in something larger than myself. I think this comes from my belief that I can make a difference, that my approach to people could move an entity in a positive direction. There would be meetings and things to figure out, problems to solve. I think I would feel needed.

I have known retired people who took up a musical instrument, who took up a new sport or started building models. I think any of these activities might fill the same void, might feed the soul. There are those who spend hours fiddling with their investments. This could be the same kind of thing though it seems different to me.

Where do I get off talking about profound happiness as if I had reached some vaunted plateau? Good question. I’m glad I asked it first. If you understand my philosophical base, you will realize that I am running my life on the assumption that I may be the only person involved in my life, all else, everyone else is an illusion, a hologram--characters and events through and around which I weave my life (or my life is woven). You, at this moment, are an important part of my life. I know, I know first I tell you you don’t exist and then I tell you you are an important part of my life. I hate the confusion but I’m unable to be clearer at this point. Perhaps I will be more articulate at some future time.

You are important to me because I love you and I want you to be happy. Telling you that I have something that you might not have is no way to make you happy. The best I can do now is to suggest that you smile at someone. Think about some specific person or situation in which you will have an opportunity to give off a big sincere smile—a “Hi, I’m sure glad to be sharing this space and time with you. I’m glad we are both alive here together.” Think about the situation now and maybe even make a note to yourself to help you remember. It can be a store clerk, a person coming toward you on the street, a neighbor, anyone. If you experience is anything like mine, most times you will get a smile back. If that smile doesn’t make you feel better, then give up any effort to understand my philosophy.