I love it when successful white men want to tell me about happiness and money.
Right. Okay. First of all, I think a quest for happiness is complicated and misguided. Those who seek happiness — the naive notion that you can avoid heartache and pain — will always be disappointed. Or they will live in a false reality that doesn’t reflect the real world.
I think there’s nothing worse in life than being a naive sucker who operates in an alternate reality. Life is only experienced when you’re fully present. If you’re not present and experiencing everything — from happiness to pain — you are wasting time. And then you die.
I can’t argue that I am not responsible for my own happiness. I am. Full stop. But I will say that happiness levels are impacted by the attitudes and behaviors of those in power. It’s tough to be happy when you face institutional racism, sexism, and classism. It’s tough to feel good about life when you’re told not to voice your dissatisfaction unless you’re in a quiet room while wearing a smoking jacket and holding a glass of scotch.
I can’t argue that passion is a bad thing, either, except that being passionate and being competent are two very different things. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you are very good at it. I am a liberal arts major who took my fair share of creative writing and photography classes. Now I work in HR. It’s funny how the marketplace has a way of letting you know when you suck at your passions.
And I really like the message that money doesn’t buy happiness. That’s an anti-consumerism message that I accept and applaud. Unfortunately, it’s a lie. Money buys power, access, and property. Money helps to ensure a legacy. When you are wealthy, you don’t have to worry about the basic things in life. Personally, I can fix stuff when it breaks. I have access to health care. I can volunteer and be generous with my time and my resources. I can study new things, travel, and make unique contributions to the world. Money might give me a different set of problems but my emotional and physical needs are met thanks to cash. And that makes me happy and provides me with peace of mind.
But Dan Buettner‘s book and Daniel Kahneman‘s research would lead you to believe that $75,000 is some kind of magic number. The experience of happiness allegedly plateaus when you earn that level of income. Hm. So much hinges on the word experience. Although data shows that people with wealth look back on their lives and remember it with a greater degree of happiness, these authors and gurus want you to believe that memory is fallible. For example, you experience pain but you might remember it — for better or worse — in a different way. So even when you have a positive memory about your life, it might be wrong. Happiness in the moment is more important than happiness in your memories.
I don’t know about that, yo. I’m okay with the idea that money buys me happier memories. I’m not in life for some kind of short-term gain. This is a marathon. Not a sprint.
Now listen, I’m not arguing for materialism and consumerism. Quite the opposite. I’m actually telling you to acquire some level of wealth and not spend it on books that tell you how to be happy. Don’t pursue a quixotic and confusing journey for happiness.
Unfortunately, if you stop endlessly searching for happiness, a whole host of successful white guys on TV become less successful. They become less happy. And they start to worry about money and income and power and access — thought they’d never admit it.
So stack your cheddar and be thankful for what you have. And stop taking advice about happiness from a bunch of liars and fraudsters.
And watch out. Next up, these white guys will tell you what it’s like to get your period. Oh wait, they already do.