Friday, February 18, 2022

Can money buy happiness?

I have dialogued with many people over the years. A recurring theme is the concept of happiness. Yesterday I discussed this very theme with a wonderful young person named Oscar. Oscar argued that the statement "money can't buy happiness" is false. He told me that money can indeed buy happiness. Being as eager to learn as ever, I asked for an example. He responded by listing a range of products he's purchased which made him happy. The reasoning seemed to be as follows: when I purchase X, I am happy; therefore, money can buy happiness.

Still curious, I asked Oscar to show me one of the products he was referring to. He pointed to a lego model prominently displayed on a nearby shelf.

I carefully examined the model and asked, "Can you confirm that this is an example of money buying happiness?"

"Yes." he said.

Perplexed, I continued, "Can you please show me? Can you point to the happiness?"

He was confused by my request, so I elaborated. "You said that this is an example of happiness which you have bought with money. Well, were is it? All I see is a collection of plastic bricks. Can you point to this 'happiness' thing that you've purchased". 

He must have thought I was mad. He explained that the happiness was a feeling he felt while working with the bricks. 

I asked, "Is happiness guaranteed when someone buys bricks?"

He shook his head. "No, of course not."

"Ah", I said, "I understand. So the happiness is not a thing contained in the bricks, it comes from the person using the bricks. In this case, you." 

He agreed. 

I continued, "It seems that money can buy pieces of plastic but not happiness itself. Something more is required for that. Perhaps you could experience the same level of happiness by stacking pebbles or building sandcastles. The happiness is not a property of any of these things. Rather, it is a thing you create for yourself."

He reluctantly agreed to this point and we moved on to discuss other things. The point to be drawn from this is that there are many factors involved in happiness. Money alone is no guarantee of happiness. So we should be realistic with our expectations. Money doesn't really buy happiness.

- Socrates