Can Gross Generalizations Buy Us Happiness?
Posted by PintofStout on August 13, 2007
Everyday we’re bombarded with statements that are approximations of the facts. There are political polls and generalizations that say Americans are unhappy with their government because 75% of the (at most) couple thousand citizens asked picked similarly among the restricted choices offered. There are phrases that lump complete strangers together by skin tone, spiritual proclivity, or inventory of sexual organs. Granted, generalizations like these are useful for categorization based on facts, especially while trying to find a mate, but to associate tendencies prevalent among such categorizations to individuals is clearly overshooting. The most frequent (maybe) occurrence of over-generalizing comes with clichéd phrases.
The one phrase that comes to mind, and the reason for this post, is “money can’t buy you happiness.” We’ve all heard it said and probably nodded agreement while imaging just the occasions where it would possibly be true and neglecting all other possible circumstances. It comes to mind because a fellow blogger is weighing job offers where a value must be assigned to some tangibles that aren’t money and some intangibles. The first thing that came to my mind was this very saying. After some thought, the asterisk was put into place.
The asterisk is necessary, rather than a complete revision, because it is true that money alone may not always buy happiness, but sometimes money and the right places to spend it will. I would also footnote the word money to explain that money is simply a store of subjective value, and if someone could give out an IOU of happiness, it could actually be considered money; therefore, money can not only buy happiness but it can actually be happiness.
What the conundrum comes down to is subjective value of intangibles, such as freedom, opportunity, and security. Money in and of itself will provide none of this; it is only ink and fancy paper (or some combination of ones and zeros on a magnetic disk somewhere). But when someone who has something that one values and they, in turn, value some quantity of this paper, one can acquire things they value, which inevitably makes them happy or the trade wouldn’t be made. Even those intangibles mentioned previously require things to be acquired. It could be freedom from debt or worry regarding finances, or security from uncertainty.
Things like time-off, benefits, advancement opportunity, general atmosphere in a work environment, and other things one may value can be considered money, a.k.a. something of value. Since these qualities are subjective and would vary among individuals it’s hard to quantify the value like some material object, such as cash. Still, the concept that money is a store of value and things of value make us happy leads to the fact that money is, in fact, happiness (if only in potential).
Just walking around with a pocket full of money isn’t likely to make someone happy, unless they possess a not-so-rare fetish for the stuff; so in that context the clichéd phrase is probably right. But that giant blanket statement misses so many occasions where money is a gateway to happiness, or indeed, potential happiness waiting to be unleashed.