12.01.2007

Money, happiness, and random rays bursting through the clouds

I believe that money can't buy happiness ("All They Are Saying Is Give Happiness a Chance," NYT, Nov. 12, 2007), but I also think that some of the things that do lend themselves to happiness--free time, time to spend with family and friends, less stress--are difficult to come by if you are working two jobs or many, many hours at one job to make enough money to feed, clothe, and house you and your dependents. This just means that you need a certain degree of financial stability to have happiness. Once you have that financial stability, I would tend to agree that more money won't make you happier. I have never been of the opinion that having a lot of money would make me happier, since the things that bring me the most pleasure are almost never expensive.

The way that little things affect our happiness was very interesting to me--finding a dime on a photocopy machine? That would make me happy! So do things like helping random strangers (or being helped by them--when someone points out that I've dropped something, for example), taking a walk on a nice day, seeing a funny movie, having a really great discussion with a friend, having the time and being in the right mind frame to appreciate live music (it's not enough to hear it when I'm rushed or stressed out or worried about the expense). Sometimes I am surprised by how much the little things make a difference.

Conversely, it doesn't take much to make a bad day. Usually, the kinds of things that make my day bad are interactions I have with other people I know or frustrations with my own inability to be the person I want to be--things that are rather expected and seem kind of mundane--while the kinds of things that make my day good seem more random, like seeing something startingly beautiful in Central Park or helping random strangers or being helped by random strangers. I'm not sure what, exactly, this says about me.

I often think of how I should find a way to integrate more of the happiness-creating things into my life. I don't think it would be that hard, but it does take some focus, planning, and intentionality, whereas my modus operandi seems to be more along the lines of frenzied flying by the seat of my pants. Some part of me thinks that moments planned to promote happiness would be less satisfying than random rays of happiness bursting through the clouds of work and stress and errands and housekeeping. (Interminable! Will I ever get used to the idea that to keep myself fed and clothed and satisfied I will need to shop and launder and sweep, week after week after week forever? I would very much like for these things to take care of themselves. I suppose that is where having more money would come into play and possibly make me happier.)