Remember What They Say About the Love of Money
A very treasured friend of mine had as his handle on social media for years the statement “love people, not things”. I always admired his genuine concern for his fellow human and have never forgotten the countless acts of kindness he engaged in for no other reason than the fact that he believed in practicing what he preaches. To be clear, this critical thinking friend is not particularly religious. Instead, he is a deeply spiritual person who is concerned with the meaning of life and how best to make use of our time here on earth. Today, as I pay rapt attention to what is unfolding in Jamaica with members of several financial institutions facing investigations for criminal activities related to stealing large sums of other people’s money, my friend’s words ring truer than ever. It is high time that we start to divorce ourselves from the idea that we should follow the cult of money and the expectation that success will be measured by the acquisition of “stuff”.
One of the things we thought after years of research is that money can only contribute to one’s level of happiness to a particular degree. In fact, a previous North American study showed that the maximum amount of “happiness” you can access by increased income is placed somewhere between US$75,000 to $102,000 in annual income depending on where you are in the continent. However, a lot has changed in this area of research since 2010 when that study was published and we now know that people can attain higher levels of happiness with increased income however, what appears to be more significant than how much we earn is HOW we attained that wealth and what we do with it.
According to this article in Psychology Today, those who earned their millions honestly through hard work are happier than those who did not. We can see this play out with so many anecdotal cases in which lottery winners end up broke and depressed despite acquiring money quickly. We also see it in those who inherited their money anecdotally but, the research shows this clearly as well, (see here). The article also talks about the fact that it is not the money itself that brings happiness, it is the fact that when one does not have to worry about financial stressors, one is far more able to spend one’s time in a more fulfilling way. It also greatly matters what one chooses to spend money on. Those who give to others report higher levels of happiness than those spending on themselves. The old adage “it is better to give than receive” certainly seems consistent with this idea. For more on this, see here. Those of us who consider ourselves to be Adlerian therapists know that the whole concept of giving back is very powerful as it brings happiness not just to the person being helped but also to the giver. It is part of the reason we generally encourage prosocial behaviour.
Another important factor in the happiness and money consideration is the numerous studies that show the longer lasting, positive effects of spending on experiences over spending on things. There are several recent articles that point this out, (here, here and here). One of the key reasons for this phenomenon is the concept of the hedonic treadmill or hedonic adaptation. Essentially, everyone has a set point for happiness to which we all return regardless of what happens to us. This is why, when we save up enough money to buy some luxury good we want, (Corvette, Gucci purse, etc), we initially feel happy as the rush of dopamine rewards us. However, now that we have achieved that thing, we will inevitably return to our baseline and go seeking the next thing to experience a dopamine rush. This happens over and over until we die.
When we use this as a basis for evaluating money, spending habits and happiness, we can then critically examine how the single-minded approach to the acquisition of money often causes both misery and ruin for self and others. We see how people are inundated with images of extreme wealth, (real or staged), on social media where there are people whose job it is to “influence” your spending behaviour. We know that reality tv is far from real and that many of the people in those shows are not as happy in real life as they portray themselves to be. Even our social media feeds may not be as honest as they could be as we compare our actual lives to the highlight reels posted by our friends. And yet, most of us enslave ourselves to the idea that image is everything often to the degree that we will engage in criminal behaviour to have a little of what we perceive others as possessing.
Last weekend while having a rare moment of free time, I decided to watch the Prime Video documentary “Generation Wealth”. This 2018 examination of the greed that permeates Western societies is more significant now than ever before. The narrator had been examining the phenomenon of wealth over 25 years and this film held up a mirror to society to make the point that usually, just before the collapse of a civilization, there is a massive increase in wealth and decadence. Many of the analysts in the film explain this and state that we are on the verge of such a collapse.
2022’s The Tinder Swindler was an interesting look into the lengths to which people will go to cheat others out of their money for personal gain. There are many more such cautionary tales however, we usually associate them with nefarious individuals acting alone outside the formal system. Mariana van Zeller’s episode of Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller on scamming showed this clearly and showcased the national problem of scamming in Jamaica as well as other parts of the world. (Watch the episode here).
The current situation in Jamaica where two news stories broke in rapid succession about employees of financial institutions stealing from clients turns all of those naïve assumptions on their heads, (see stories here and here). When someone as prominent and well loved as Usain Bolt can be fleeced out of his money by people within an institution based on trust, it shows us the ugly truth about ourselves as human beings. Some of us are not above exploiting those who do so much for the collective good. The previous year, a senior employee of one of the same financial institutions was arrested for stealing a large sum of money which it is alleged that she used to build a large house, (article here). Then there are the lawyers who have engaged in fraud by exploiting trusting clients in 2022 alone, (here and here).
When will we as a collective start to re-examine what actually matters and return to prosocial behaviours? What will it take for us to stop glorifying excess and instead become more internal and reflective to realize that happiness truly does come from within and that we do have the power to change our capacity to experience it? There is so much information out there based on research and tried and true methods that show the actual determinants of happiness. To get you started, here is one. When we start to search for those things, we will truly start to realize that loving people over things IS the most reliable way to achieve lasting happiness.