Disclaimer: It is important to you know I live in the United States of America. The idea behind this particular “My Opinion Monday” article is centered on my experiences and knowledge as an American. This does not necessarily have to apply to other countries in all respects, but it is my personal belief that it is accurate to some degree as a generalization. Also be reminded, this is called “My Opinion Monday” for a reason – at its core this is an opinion article.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness. We have all heard this phrase at least once in our lives, be it from our parents, friends, teachers, or coworkers. This is one of those idealistic views meant to help people rise above materialistic needs and desires; and, honestly, it can bode well for those having the ability to actually abide by these words. True happiness comes from within one’s self. Only inner satisfaction brings happiness, right? Wrong. Today I want to point out that this “money can’t buy happiness” mentality is rather quite false.
Abraham Maslow. Does the name ring a bell? Do you need to Google his name to see his accomplishments? There is no need. Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs. [Do you see my bad joke now…] After studying monkeys he realized that when hungry or thirsty that satisfying thirst takes priority (Boeree). It is from this point that he begins to theorize of self-actualization. Defined by Merriam-Webster, self-actualization is “to realize one’s full potential.” If we are to achieve self-actualization, Maslow laid out four preceding layers, which we much obtain in order.
(1) Physiological Needs. Our most basic needs must be fulfilled in order to successfully classify our physiological needs as “achieved.” Maslow identifies basic biological processes and requirements for this section. You know: breathing, vitamins, minerals, digestion, sleep, physical activity, water, etc. You would think that this is a relatively easy thing to achieve, that everyone should automatically be able to accomplish this one layer. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world manages this. In fact, not even everyone in this country gets his or her basic needs met. Foundations, such as No Kid Hungry, exist to bring awareness to malnutrition and lack of food source. Also, air pollution and water pollution are realities we currently face.
(2) Safety & Security Needs. For those who are fortunate enough to meet all of the above physiological needs, after that comes the need for security in his or her shelter (nonhazardous home, good neighborhood, renowned schools, etc…). This section of the pyramid also encompasses financial stability: job security, a retirement fund, and monetary cushion. Since homelessness is a real problem, well, it is obvious that this isn’t the easiest of things to achieve either. This is the need I will be focusing on later more attentively.
(3) Love & Belonging Needs. Maslow explains that in this tier the need for a sense of community and acceptance become necessary. If unattained these can cause an individual to develop a sense of loneliness and anxiety. Anyone that has ever been, you know, alive – has sometimes had love and belonging take a front seat to all other needs. Sometimes it even etches ahead of common sense. I can name at least three people in my personal life who currently are making this mistake, if I’m honest.
(4) Esteem Needs. Maslow describes two parts to esteem needs: lower and higher. For lower esteem he lists the following as requirements: respect for others, dignity, power, dominance, recognition, fame, glory, attention, reputation, and appreciation. Furthermore, to reach higher esteem, Maslow maintains that these things must be present: self-respect, confidence, mastery, achievement, independence, freedom, and competence. Understandably, anyone would love to have each of these words describing him or her. The problem always seems to be that a person only has a few of these traits, and usually in excess.
So what does any of this have to do with money buying happiness? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the foundation to my belief that money is necessary to be satisfied – and subsequently – happy too. The bulk of “safety and security” is in the ability to have shelter and healthy finances. It affirms the importance of finance in our lives and, by consequence, the role it plays in our ability to realize our full potential.
When I was I was in high school, ninth grade specifically, we were encouraged to read a certain book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. Perhaps you are familiar with it, perhaps you are not, but I highly suggest reading it – even if you’re an adult (although, there is a version for adults, too, if you prefer). One of the lasting impressions I got about the book was in regard to paradigms. “What are paradigms,” you might be asking. No need to worry; no need to Google. Paradigms are: the way you see something – a belief, point of view, frame of reference, or perception (Covey).
There are many paradigms centers one can have in life. Common ones identified by Sean Covey are: friend, family, school, significant other, parent, stuff, enemy, sports and hobbies, hero, and self. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I mean, honestly we probably became (or will become, for you youngsters) centered on each one of these paradigms in the four years we attend(ed) high school! When someone becomes centered on these things it is not unlike having a filter in life – everything we say, do, or act upon is based upon the focus on one of these things. I do not think it is impossible to become money centered, even though it isn’t listed in the book. In fact, I think having a financial centric point of view is almost consequential of simply existing.
Paradigms all have a catch – that’s what Covey tells us. All paradigms have faults – save for one. There’s always one, isn’t there? Supposedly being principle-centered is the only way to avoid pitfalls (Covey). Just to name a few of the principles that he believes will lead to a perfect well-rounded life of decision making… honesty, proactivity, selflessness, kindness, and gratitude (Covey). Personally, I find fault with this because of Maslow.
Truth is – the principle-centered paradigm is similar to Abraham Maslow’s necessities for happiness. He classifies these components as B-needs: truth, goodness, beauty, unity, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, completion, justice, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency, and meaningfulness (Boeree). It is explicitly stated that these are requirements for happiness. In one way or another, the principles stated by Covey fall within the realm of these requirements distinguished by Maslow. The good thing is that they add up, but the bad thing is that at the time he studies were originally published – he only estimated approximately 2% of people being able to reach self-actualization, and thereby happiness (Boeree). Even though this conclusion was made quite some time ago, I am going to say it is a safe guess that the likelihood of self-actualization isn’t much, if any, higher than it used to be back then. A principle center may be the most effective paradigm to have it cannot guarantee one will realize his or her full potential – I mean, self-actualization. Not to mention, Maslow himself believes that richness is essential to happiness.
Now I would like to look at the consequences of not having money or financial stability. When you go to the grocery store with a budget and you purchase items that exceed that budget – what do you do? There are really only three things that you can do: 1) purchase the items and figure out what in your budget can wait or be carved out entirely, 2) remove items from your purchase to get back within the parameters of the budget, or 3) make the purchase and borrow the money from someone else later to make up for the overspending. In one way or another, these options are in direct opposition of what Maslow believes we need as humans.
Your first option requires you to compromise on needs. Even if you’re giving up an opportunity to go to the movies you are still giving up a sense of community and belonging, which falls in the third tier of the pyramid. The second option requires you to compromise on your needs more directly – you have to put food back. You have to put back nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are essential to your survival. Lastly, if you have to borrow the money from someone else to make up for the lack of funds, then you eliminate your self-sufficiency. Safety and security is then compromised.
Moving beyond that, what about the consequences psychologically of having to make such a decision? Chances are you feel down about it, you feel stressed about the finances. Can I pay this? What do I need to cut out? For some people it might be, “what do I have to skip paying this month?” Have to do it once – maybe it’s not so bad. Perhaps even a second or third time it doesn’t have to be a long-lasting worry. Eventually, after having to compromise on your needs over and over again, deeper psychological issues can and will develop.
Financial struggle is often listed among the leading causes for depression and anxiety (Mayo Clinic, WebMD). Unfortunately, we see a lot of stigma around depression and anxiety as mental disorders. Not unlike ADHD, depression and anxiety have both become sorts of ‘fast food,’ prepackaged diagnoses for everything sad and stressful. So you’re really tense about work? You have anxiety. So you’re really upset about your divorce? You have depression. Any traumatic event can give you anxiety. Any traumatic event can give you depression. As a result, for the most part depression and anxiety just aren’t taken very seriously anymore because – well – everyone seems to have it. The prevalence of these two illnesses have skyrocketed, and as a result people write off people whom have these disorders. Unfortunately, just because the issue is everywhere does not make the afflictions less severe. I don’t see anyone doing the same for cancer.
Suicide is something that people don’t like talking about because it isn’t exactly the most joyous of topics. However, it needs to be talked about briefly for this article because of the relevance that it can have to the topic. Over 90% of all suicides consist of someone whom had a diagnosable mental disorder (NAMI). Can you guess what you might find in the list of most common disorders for suicides? Allow me to save you the trouble: depression and anxiety (NAMI). And exactly who is most likely to have mental disorders such as these? According to the CDC in regard to depression, someone who is impoverished is four times more likely to be diagnosed with this illness than someone making well over the standard income threshold.
In support of the belief, “Money doesn’t buy happiness,” I will say that I get it. For some people afflicted with mental disorders as the result of biological imbalances, no amount of money can ever buy him or her seamless happiness. Maslow himself stated that, to some degree, the individuals he observed as reaching self-actualization experienced low levels of guilt and anxiety (Boeree). Happiness comes from a pool of things occurring within and without a person. So no, money doesn’t buy happiness exclusively.
But neither does spiritual and emotional satisfaction.
The cost of living rises year after year, after year, after year. People already struggling begin struggling more; people whom were comfortable before must now struggle. Not having money can make it difficult to move upwards in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because it is essential to our basic biological and physiological functions. We have to pay for healthcare, we have to pay for insurance, and then we still have to pay the remainder of medical bills. We have to buy food for which prices continue inflating. We have to buy fuel for our cars, and we have to heat our homes. Getting ahead financially is about as easy as getting to the second floor of a building on a stair-stepper.
If one must live in fear of losing everything he or she has earned, how can one avoid developing depression or anxiety? How can one ever be happy without first constructing long lasting financial stability? How can we ever get to that point when the cost of medical care and college tuition alone can put us into debt for the rest of our lives? There is only one answer: you cannot. Money buys a lot more than stability.
Money buys happiness too.
“Anxiety.” WebMD. Ed. Joseph Goldberg. WebMD, 2014. Web. 17 July 2015.
Boeree, Dr. C. George. “Abraham Maslow.” Abraham Maslow. N.p., 2006. Web. 17 July 2015.
Covey, Sean, and Sean Covey. “Paradigms and Principles.” 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. London: Simon & Schuster, 2004. N. pag. Print.
“Depression (major Depressive Disorder).” Depression (major Depression) Causes. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web. 17 July 2015.
“Mental Illness.” National Alliance on Mental Illness. Ed. Ken Duckworth and Jacob L. Freedman. National Alliance on Mental Illness, Jan. 2013. Web. 17 July 2015.
National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Feature on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hyattsville, MD. 2012.
“Self-actualization.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 July 2015.