By Tanya Vasunia:
Have you wondered whether money can buy you love? Or happiness? It can definitely buy you a Jacuzzi, which, after a long day at work, may bring you happiness. Unfortunately, life is not so black-and-white – and the truth about happiness is a little more complicated than lying down in a Jacuzzi. Through this piece, we hope to discuss money and finances and the role they play in an individual’s perceived happiness.
Perceived happiness can be understood in terms of subjective well-being, which is a person’s evaluation of their quality of life. A person who is very satisfied with their life will experience more positive emotions and less negative ones, and is considered to have greater subjective well-being – and hence, a greater perceived level of happiness. This idea can be understood through the case of Mrs. Shah (name changed to protect confidentiality).
Mrs. Shah is a 45-year-old homemaker who is married to a successful businessman. She has two sons, both in Ivy League colleges and a fully-staffed home in south Bombay. Mrs. Shah sought our services because lately, she has felt that while she has nothing to be upset about, she has ceased being happy – and that she should be happier than she currently is. During our sessions, we explored what it meant to be happy, and how one can acquire happiness in their lives.
Let us look at this with the aid of research.
In 2015, an article by Mark Fahey for CNBC projected that there is indeed a strong relationship between household income and emotional wellbeing. In accordance with this, multiple studies have established a statistical relationship between income and emotional well being. Diener et al. (2002) had put forth the idea that not only does money buy happiness, happiness also buys money. When happy, we are likely to be more productive – which, in turn, will help us acquire more income, which will potentially make us happy. Thus, he attempts to demonstrate the highly inter-related and co-dependent relationship that money and happiness have.
Here is the crux though: while research definitely confirms a link between money and happiness, they don’t declare declare a causational relationship between the two. Simply put, while money and happiness may be interlinked, one is not a consequence of the other.
Other studies propose that while financial success provides you with a perceived sense of happiness, it does not have an impact on moment-to-moment feelings. In the case of Mrs. Shah, this can be viewed as such: according to her, her perceptions of happiness were rooted in monetary and materialistic living (big house, successful husband). Yet, upon being asked if these factors actually contributed in her day-to-day happiness, she would say no. Money didn’t make her happy.
The above example then begs the question: what makes one happy? Is it money, giving you the power to buy things (cars, accessories) and services? If happiness were to be dependent on these external options, it would be similar to addiction, which is concerning. Or is happiness rooted in something more internal?
When we look at consumerism, we realise that the positive feelings associated with acquiring expensive items are often short-lived. Furthermore, we would need to spend more and more money over time to get the same level of subjective happiness from material possessions. The same principle applies for praise from a loved one – if you need it to make you feel good, after a period of time, you will get desensitised and need bigger praise, at a higher frequency, to feel good.
Mrs. Shah faced these very issues – her financial status provided her with a general positive regard for life, but it played no role in her day-to-day emotional well-being. We worked with Mrs. Shah to understand what happiness meant to her, what she expected happiness to feel like, and all that she was able to do to make herself feel happy without the need of external validation.
When we think about what makes us happy, we often think about the external things – money, friends, family, etc. We rarely think about the internal landscape, because it is not easy to rely on yourself to make yourself happy. The reality is, no matter your financial or social success, your daily emotional well-being is dependent on you and your ability to regulate your emotional experiences.
While it is healthy to experience a range of emotions on a day-to-day basis, when your negative emotions start taking centre-stage, then you might need help.
By their very nature, emotions are elusive and fleeting. Investing in mental health is similar to making a long-term investment – it is a slow process, but it yields rich dividends.
The author is a psychologist at Mpower.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.