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Should making more money be your New Year's resolution?
by Graeme J. Davidson
31 December 2005

According to Aristotle, happiness is an activity of the soul that expresses virture. Happiness comes from being good, noble and virtuous; and that includes acting justly and generously.

....Her parents were distraught. “We gave our daughter a new Trans Am sports car for her sixteenth birthday,” they lamented, “but she threw a tantrum, screaming she’d rather die than be seen driving an American car to school. She’s demanding we take it back and buy her a Porsche or a Ferrari.”
....This incident happened while I was living amid the super-wealthy on the West side of Los Angeles. As the daughter’s school was Beverly Hills High, many of her friends did indeed drive expensive European cars.
....I couldn’t help comparing this rich kid’s misery with my own joy at receiving a school bag for my sixteenth birthday. But at 16, I lived in Palmerston North, New Zealand, not Beverly Hills.
....Money can’t buy happiness is a threadbare cliché. Researchers have found that, on average, rich people are slightly happier than the rest of us. Their money gives them financial security, more choices and bigger egos.
....Like the 16-year-old from Beverly Hills, we want to keep up with the wealthy Joneses. We buy Lotto tickets and seek higher incomes in the hope of upgrading things or have glamorous clothes and exotic holidays. And despite dire warnings of bumpy landings, family debt levels are in the stratosphere.
....There’s no denying that we need money for necessities and job insecurity does lead to unhappiness. Should making more money, then, be your New Year’s resolution?
....Well, maybe a smidgen more. But, in reality, once we’ve satisfied our needs, the extra dollars don’t make that much difference
....For the last few decades, happiness levels have remained static as real incomes soared in industrialised countries. Ironically, elderly people in a recent survey in Wales said the tough depression and war years were the happiest of their lives.
....An international study in New Scientist two years ago reported that people in the low-income countries of Nigeria, Mexico and Venezuela are tops in subjective wellbeing or happiness. We Kiwis come fifteenth, ahead of Australians and the British who have higher incomes than we do.
....Why, then, do politicians and others urge us to seek the economic Holy Grail of rising to number one on the rich list of OECD countries? To help our poor through some dribble-down effect while the rich give spoilt teenagers Porsches and Ferraris? Or is it a conspiracy of business interests wanting us to earn more so we’ll shop till we drop?
....Whatever the reason, most of us are not going to be significantly happier? As anyone with the latest super-size TV will tell you, all you get is a bigger and slightly better picture. There’s no improvement in the quality of the TV programmes. A salary increase may enable you to upgrade to a luxury car, only to achieve a tad more comfort when you wait in traffic jams.
....Psychologists studying happiness find that we receive a boost when we win the lottery or get that fashionable gizmo the advertisements promise will do wonders. But the happiness is short-lived. We soon return to the basic level of happiness we were born with. If we become addicted to retail therapy, it may even make us feel worse over time.
....So the recipe for happiness, researchers have found, is to avoid making money and conspicuous consumption your god. Do a job that you really enjoy and lower your expectations so that 16-year-old daughters are happy to have that Trans Am (or a school bag) instead of a Ferrari.
....Spending time with family and friends increases our happiness. Research also suggests that the married and those who are committed to a religious faith or other belief are also happier, healthier and financially better off than their uncommitted friends are.
....Comparing your body with the young and beautiful leads to lowered self-esteem and to cosmetic surgeons with fat wallets.
....But seeking personal happiness shouldn’t be an end in itself. We can feel good and still do bad things.
....In the fourth century BC, Aristotle argued in a treatise on ethics that happiness isn’t about fleeting pleasures. Rather, it’s an “activity of the soul that expresses virtue”. For Aristotle, happiness comes from being good, noble and virtuous; and that includes acting justly and generously.
....Modern researchers have found that those of us who are altruistic are also among the happiest of people. We live longer than those who are less compassionate and the more we give, the happier we are.
....The ungrateful 16-year-old would have gained happiness for herself and many others by asking her parents to sell the Trans Am and give the money for poverty relief. It would have been a cool example to her friends of how doing good is the basis of true happiness.




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