Is Happiness Above Wealth?

Dec 4, 2010

If solid happiness we pride,
Within our breast this jewel lies,
And they are fools who roam;
The world has nothing to bestow,
From our own selves our bliss must flow,
And that dear hut – our home.

- Nathaniel Cotton, English poet and physician (1707-1788).
Cotton implies that happiness is a personal thing. But, there is also a community, societal and wider angle to happiness as reflected by Alexander Pope, English poet and critic (1688-1744):

Heaven to mankind impartial we confess,
If all are equal in their happiness;
But mutual wants this happiness increase,
All nature’s difference keeps all nature’s peace.
Now the concept of happiness takes a global spotlight with the development of national happiness index to supplement or substitute the traditional GDP (Gross National Product) or its derivative, per capita income, obtained by dividing GDP by the total population of the country. Britain is the latest to join the expanding bandwagon of countries getting hitched to the happiness index.

On November 15, 2010 British officials said that they will start measuring national wellbeing in addition to gauging more traditional data like income levels and fear of crime. This new approach is part of an attempt to measure national happiness levels that had been proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron during the general election campaign earlier in 2010.
It is part of a "science of happiness" movement that has taken root in several other countries, including France and Canada, as officials and academics study the failure of rising living standards in recent decades to be accompanied by a similar rise in personal contentment. Incidentally, according to World Database of Happiness 2000-09, Britain records 7.1 on a scale of 1 to 10, with Denmark leading with 8.3, followed by US, 7.4 and India 5.5.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan coined the term Gross National Happiness in 1972. While we await an impending announcement in Britain on the timing of the national survey to measure "emotional prosperity", the issues involved are highlighted in a crisp editorial on the subject, commenting on the British initiative, in The Times of India (18-11-10) under the title Are You Satisfied?:
"..the UK could soon be one of the few countries to officially gauge general psychological well-being. The Brits didn’t think of it first. Bhutan has long championed the promotion of "gross national happiness'' (GNH). France too wants to measure "quality of life". Like laughter, the "science of happiness" bug is infectious. So, it is catching on. Not least because surveys in Europe suggest deeper pockets don’t always mean deeper contentment. A US economist has said rich countries are happier than poor ones, but their northbound economic growth doesn’t cause a corresponding rise in general happiness.
Moods and feelings being neither collective nor quantifiable, governments must treat material and psychological welfare as mutually reinforcing. Fuzzy concepts like ‘sense of well-being’ can be manipulated to avoid delivering inclusive growth. Yes, man doesn’t live by bread alone. But try living without bread. Money can’t buy happiness. But it sure can buy things that make you happy."
As for inclusive growth, Francis Hutcheson, Irish metaphysician (1694-1747) had said: "That action is best which procures the greatest Happiness of the greatest Numbers; and the worst, which, in like manner, occasions misery". It was one of the cornerstones of Gandhiji’s welfare philosophy.
There is a popular song which says that money can’t buy happiness or love. The ability of money – or its equivalence like property, gold or credit card – to deliver happiness has not been conclusively established, though the subject has been in focus for two millennia. The good old Bible says: "Wine maketh merry – but money answereth all things". Even more ancient Quitqas Horace, Roman Italy) poet (BC65-8) said: "Money, make money; by honest means if you can, if not, by any means make money". (Did he anticipate today’s Rajas, Chavans and Yeddyurappas?).

Milton said that money brings honour, friends, conquest and realm; but he said nothing about happiness. Another writer, Hosea Ballau, has a different take on the subject: "Happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit". That brings us to the proposition that money (or wealth), and the greedy quest for it, can be self destructive as reflected in the following two instances.
A courtier was constantly pestering the king to give him land. One morning the king called the courtier and told him that he could have as much land as he could cover, running or walking, from sunrise to sunset, starting from the palace and ending there. The courtier started running along a distant periphery and found himself far away from the palace as the sun was sinking on the western horizon. He started running faster and faster to make it to the palace before sunset. Exhausted and dehydrated (there were no plastic mineral water bottles then), he dropped dead about hundred yards from the palace. He was buried in a grave 6ft x 3ft.
In the second instance, a boon was offered to a man, who opted for the grace of turning anything he touched to gold (equivalent to money, as noted earlier). He was happy that everything he touched turned to gold (Midas touch). Then he sat for his meal. As he went for his first morsel from the plate, the plate and the food turned to gold which he could not eat. So, this man died of starvation (don’t ask why he was not fed by his wife or children).
That is why English writer Francis Bacon (1561-1626) said: "Money is like muck, not good except it be spread". By itself money cannot deliver happiness. Recent surveys have given contrary signals on the subject. Ed Diener, University of Illinois psychologists, says that the connection between money and happiness is complex. "Very rich people rate substantially higher in satisfaction with life than very poor people do". According to Andrew Oswald, University of Warwick economist, "There is overwhelming evidence that money buys happiness". He reported a study of Britons who won between $ 2,000 to $ 250,000 in a lottery. As a group, they showed a boost in happiness.
On the other hand, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner and Princeton economist, declared that the notion that making a lot of money will produce good overall mood (happiness) is mostly illusory. One study noted that people with household income of $ 90,000 or more were only slightly more "very happy" (43%) compared to those with income of $ 50,000 to $ 89,999 (42%).

Another psychologist, Richard Lucas of Michigan University, while admitting a relationship between money and happiness, does not know why. In the context of salaries, he asks: does money make you happier? Or, does being happier in the first place allows you to earn more money later, maybe by way of creativity or energy? Or, does some other factor produce both money and happiness? Lucas says that people exaggerate how much happiness is bought by an extra few thousands. His parting shot is: "The quality of relationships has a far bigger effect than quite large rises in salary…It is much better advice, if you are looking for happiness in life, to try and find the right husband or wife rather than doubling your salary".
There is context or setting for benchmarking happiness. According to a Kannada folk story related to me by a rustic, there was a rich Brahmin who called his only son to his death-bed. He told his son that after his impending death, he would be reborn as a pig. He could not bear this prospect and told his son that he should shoot him dead as he would approach his house. Sure enough, a few weeks after his death, a pig approached the house grunting loudly - with a brood of twelve piglets in tow. The son brought out his loaded gun and aimed at the pig. Then the pig told his son not to shoot. (Andige ade sukha; indige ide sukha). It was joy to be human then; it is a joy to be a pig now. (Perhaps it also the thought about protecting and nurturing the piglets). Relevant to note the English expression: Happy as a pig in shit.
Finally, our religions preach us to discount our present happiness for happiness hereafter – and goad us on to suffer pain, sacrifice and live for others. Look at the Sermon of the Mount:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Elsewhere in the Bible we are told that it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter heaven.
Ancient Hindu rishis (sages) meditated disregarding the naked nymphs (Apsaras) that surrounded them. So, the standard or benchmarks were set differently – discounting present joys in favour of eternal moksha or nirvana (Eternal salvation). As John Milton, English writer (1608-1677) said, it is all in the mind:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
So, can wealth assure happiness or can one be happy despite wealth? Which should weigh higher: wealth or happiness? Chew on this!

John B Monteiro, author and journalist, is the editor of his website (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).


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Comment on this article

  • Antony T. D' Souza, Karkala / Qatar

    Mon, Dec 06 2010

    I have given below few of my collections and there are plenty more which are collected from library books and internet. However, I am sorry, none of them belongs to me either, nor they derived from my insight or revelations. But, please do not accuse me saying “then why you gog-gog,tam-tam at others quotes, if nothing comes deep within of heart and mind”. Yes, for sure next time I will come up with my own, perhaps you all will be more ease at it comfortable, meaningful, full of convictions for a joyful reading.

    “Justice to my readers compels me to admit that I write because I have nothing to do justice to myself induces me to add that I will cease to write the moment I have nothing to say”

    “We owe almost all our knowledge not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed with me."

    "There is a paradox in pride: it makes some men ridiculous, but prevents others from becoming so."

    "The three great apostles of practical atheism, that make converts without persecuting and retain them without preaching are Wealth, Health and Power."

    "He that will not permit his wealth to do any good for others ... cuts himself off from the truest pleasure here and the highest happiness later."

    J. Carlton

    “It is a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money”.
    Albert Camus

    “Lack of money is the root of all evil.”
    George Shaw

    “Anyone who says money can't buy happiness just doesn't know where to shop”. Unknown

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Sun, Dec 05 2010

    Points about length and quotations are well taken for, as the babus say, for future reference, guidance and action. More stand-alone quotations at length!

    The devil can cite Scriptures for his purpose. – Shakespeare.

    All which be understood by rote

    And, as occasion serv’d, would quote. – Butler.

    With just enough learning to misquote. –Byron.

    The art of quotation requires more delicacy in the practice than those conceive who can see nothing more in a quotation than an extract. – Isaac D’Israeli.

    A great man quotes bravely, and will not draw on his invention when his memory serves him with a word as good. –Emerson.

    Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language. – Samuel Johnson.

    As one might say of me that I have only made here a collection of other people’s flowers, having provided nothing of my own but the cord to bind them together. – Montaigne.

    He ranged his tropes, and preached up patience

    Backed his opinion with quotations.

    - Pope
    I have spared you the details of the authors quoted. Have a nice day.


    Sun, Dec 05 2010

    I think the happy man is the one who is loved by his spouse and his children and also commands respects from his neighbours and in return sincerely tries to give back what he gets. Money brings in comfort but it cannot buy happiness for the more money one has the more one wants and the older one turns, very often, more stingy one turns.

    The well-known English writer, Mr. George Bernard Shaw, in his book PYGMALION, (the My Fair Lady fame), has clearly indicated through the character of Alfred Doolittle that a man does not need too much money as Alfred Doolittle accepts just five pounds and refuses to accept ten pounds from Professor Higgins saying ten pounds is a lot of money and that his wife would not have the heart to spend it and then “good bye to happiness”, five pounds is just what he wanted.

    So, enough money to cater to ones needs is all that is required to be happy, anything beyond that is for comfort and not for happiness.

  • Bulsam, Mangalore

    Sun, Dec 05 2010

    While the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth but Denmark is the happiest one. Similarly, Norway has the highest GDP per capita on the list$98,822 and is an immediate neighbour of Denmark yet it ranked ninth and not first. According to a new analysis of data provided by the Gallup World Poll, the relationship between overall life satisfaction and wealth may not be as straightforward as previously thought.
    According to a Kannada folk story, a rich Brahmin called his only son to his deathbed. He told his son that after his impending death, he would be reborn as a pig. He could not bear this prospect and told his son that he should shoot him dead as he would approach his house. Sure enough, a few weeks after his death, a pig approached the house grunting loudly - with a brood of twelve piglets in tow. The son brought out his loaded gun and aimed at the pig. Then the pig told his son not to shoot, “Andige ade sukha indige ide sukha” meaning it was joy to be human then it is a joy to be a pig now.

  • sudhir, mangalore/dubai

    Sun, Dec 05 2010

    Happiness is the greatest wealth.

  • Keshav Serighar P.T, Mangalore / Oman

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Comparing to this, kindly note below how clear are ideas are given by Dr.Anchan,Gracy, Graeshma. Wonderful articles with once own clear thoughts irrespective which topics they delivered. Everyone has to learn on day-to-day basis.

  • Krishnan Pillai H., Uppala/Bahrain

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Hello writer, next time kindly change your style of writing, to the point and with your own quotes and deepdown soul message.

  • Michel Arun B. Cabrallo, Wadala/Mumbai

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Valid suggestions from Antony T. D’ Souza, Karkala/Qatar and Gabrial Vaz, Bangalore. I too, in the past felt similar situation to the writer’s previous articles. However, Antony was bold enough to point out in a straight forward manner. Every reader would like to enjoy the reading and digest it in a frank atmosphere. But here, case is totally different tedious references in every junction and corners, which are made over relevant to the subject content.

    A article should give something to the readers and not teach class lessons, as if, somebody would take the exam after it. This all gives to one impression that it is all bookish knowledge other than desired revelations sought by the readers. Kindly accept that, I am not biased about the writer, but revealing a type of grievance on subject issue. Please take this in a positive manner for the wellbeing of every of our readers.

  • yousuf, ksa

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Article should be short and to the point.

  • Gabriel Vaz, Bangalore

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    I fully agree with you Antony T D'Souza. In fact, I felt the same whenever I read Mr John B Monteiro's articles. Indeed, I read the entire article again and to my surprise almost the entire article, para by para relies heavily on some author, poet or leader's remarks.

    If I could add to the suggestion of Antony D'Souza, would you seriously consider cutting down on quotes and give your insights, observations because I strongly feel that readers at least those like me would not like to read about quotes from what others had written in a different context. Please take this suggestion in a friendly spirit without taking any offense. I always admire your efforts and prolific writing. Keep up the good work.

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Great article for this hard time.

    A few months back I saw total
    misery in some people with greater
    wealth because they were not satisfied with the wealth they made, now they are farther miserable due to the wealth they
    lost due to the economic meltdown.

    People can be happy by the sound of the rain, sun shine, watching
    the waves at the ocean and feeding
    the birds or the hungry people.

    According to the " World Database
    of Happiness" conducted by the
    Erasmus University of Rotterdam,
    this is the recent result.

    10.Lexembourg 7.6, highest p/c
    income, no military power.
    9. Guatemala 7.6, poor country
    close to Mexico with 56% poverty.
    8.Canada 7.6.
    7.Sweeden 7.7, almost 80% tax
    on everything but almost everything is free from the government. World's 7th richest
    man Ingvar Kampard (founder of
    IKEA, the largest furniture company in the world) drives a
    15 year old Volvo statin wagon.

    6.Australia 7.7.
    5.Finland 7.7, (Nokia country)
    4.Austria 8
    3.Switzerland 8.1
    2.Denmark 8.3
    1.Costa Rica 8.5
    U.S.A 7.4 (17th)
    Great Britain 7.1 22
    France 6.5 39
    China 6.3 44
    India 6.3 45
    (neighbours agree on happiness
    Japan 6.3 46
    Jesus said " Take heed and beware
    of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in his abundance of the things he possesses.
    Luke 12:15. He said it before
    addressing a rich vain personality.

  • wilfred crasta, taccode/sydney

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Dear John,
    I don't care who says what, no matter how much you slog for the money you have and no matter which poet or politician says,and no matter how much troubles you went to get there to get that money hoping to have happiness if your loved one has no respect and love for is in my opinion all worthless

  • Antony T. D' Souza, Karkala / Qatar

    Sat, Dec 04 2010

    Sir, What to say ? Unfortunately such a beautiful topic you have written a bit vaguely. Usually your articles are filled with full of quotes, references from top to end. Writing with your own insights could be more expressive or meaningful. Usually, you put entire content of the subject topic on the shoulders of the quotes and references to convenience us. Small article discussing on GDP, GNH , ‘National Happiness’, Science of Happiness", are partly justified. Discussions are heavily reply on European and Western societies rather than our own society, with relevant economical policies and statistics.

    However, few reference on metaphysicians and Gandhi welfare philosophy, Psychologist, Bible Proverbs, Mt. 5:3-6, a Courtier example, Kannada folk story has come out well. My suggestion, with one or two quotes or references, jotting down with your insight could be more interesting and valuable. Kindly take this suggestion in a light vein rather than pinch of salt. Finally, Is Happiness Above Wealth or Wealth is Above Happiness is still open for “chew on this”.

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