Further thoughts on Money and Happiness

Mad Money Regardless of how many years you’ve worked as a professional writer, I think most of us work on stories that often linger with us after they have been “put to bed.”

The main theme of this month’s money channel asks the question, “Does money buy happiness?” It’s a topic that I–and I’ll bet most of our readers–wonder about from time to time. The nice thing about a blog is that I can share some of my additional thoughts on a huge topic such as this one, and I hope you write in with some of yours as well.

Anyway, here are some of those thoughts that did not apply themselves well to the contours of the story, but I would like to share with you nonetheless:

As I wrote in the month’s main feature story, I’ve known many happy and unhappy wealthy individuals. So it’s natural to wonder: What does their money buy them? A degree of comfort and security from what I can see, and not much else. And in fairness that equals a portion of what makes us happy. For example, money affords us the peace of mind of knowing that if the car breaks down we can get it fixed or simply buy a new one. We can afford the health care we need. Going out to a nice dinner at a top restaurant without pushing our credit to the brink on insolvency. Perhaps, most importantly the house payment is made, and in an age of increasing foreclosures that is a wonderful perk.

But while many of the trappings of wealth afford us a valuable degree of daily security, they are not truly consequential. The rich may fly first class while the rest of us are cramped in coach, but when the plane lands we all line up in baggage claim together.

Airlines lose the bags of the wealthy at the same rate as those of the poor. Weather delays are just as maddening to the well healed as to those who are down on their luck. Cross-town traffic doesn’t part for the wealthy as the waters of the Red Sea parted for Moses.

Personal misfortune often is blind to the benefits of wealth. Sonny Bono proved that skiing into a tree is no less lethal for the rich than it is for the poor. Nearly every year a celebrity proves once again that pill popping can be just as fatal to the rich and famous as it is to anyone else who inhabits a body of mere flesh and bones. And the sad stories that involve a wide variety of mental and physical health afflictions pay little attention to a family or individual’s net worth.

Additionally, the wealthy have stress factors that those of us with modest means don’t have. I can’t recall the last time I spent a day with a wealthy friend(s) that the word “liability” didn’t come-up. Whether it’s the crack in the steps that need to be fixed or the poorly behaved dog that keeps snarling at the neighborhood kids there is a lot of concern that what they have today might be gone tomorrow if they are not careful.

Let’s face it; all of Greek tragedies are based on the fall of the mighty. In truth the poor rarely have very far to fall.

Finally, I often find that for the wealthy, taxes are their greatest single annoyance. The idea that Uncle Sam is going to reach into their pockets and lift out a few thousand more dollars often drives them to distraction, and straight into the arms of a waiting Republican. I’ve often found it amusing when I guy working in a meat packing plant making $22,000 a year thinks that an investment advisor who just cleared $250,000 for the year, needs a break on his or her taxes.

As the old joke goes, the only thing worse than owing taxes, is owing no taxes at all.

martin-brown-120.jpg Martin Brown
SMW Money Editor