Friday, September 23, 2011
What really makes people happy?
It's not entirely affluent, mind you, but if there are any "McMansions" in the Des Moines area, they are mainly located in WDM. It has increasingly taken on this personality since I last lived there in 1980.
Another example of this is when I lived in Phoenix, and had a job based in downtown Scottsdale. As you have probably heard, the name "Scottsdale" is synonymous with wealth nationally, and it's rich cousins Paradise Valley and Fountain Hills are located nearby. Nice place, especially when it's cold in Minnesota and I'm in the Valley for Spring Training. During my eight years down there, I got a good eyeful of the affluent lifestyle when I worked there - lots of expensive cars, clothes, restaurants, art galleries, golf courses, resorts, and homes that exceed $2 million in worth.
So, I've had significant real-life, daily exposure to people who are doing quite well, have nice stuff, frequently travel on expensive vacations, and don't really have to worry about money - ever. Yes, one could definitely call these folks "rich," and like most people out there in blogland (about 98 percent of us), I'm not one of them and probably won't be in my lifetime.
To be perfectly honest, that undeniable fact bugs me. Of course, I would like to be rich someday and not need to worry about paying bills ever again. I think most of us would probably fall into this camp. However, does excessive wealth truly make people happy? It's an interesting question, and one that we Americans have been debating for generations in all sorts of situations.
I'm talking about the kind of wealth that not only eliminates any concern about daily expenses ("Do I have enough in my account to buy a sandwich for lunch? or "I need to wait until I get paid to buy groceries"), but takes it to the next level ("Should we go to Europe or Australia with the kids next summer?" or "We couldn't decide between a BMW and Mercedes, so we bought both").
Remarkably, even in the face of today's awful economy, the top one percent of the country is doing incredibly well - better than they ever have, in fact. How do we get into this exclusive group, you may be wondering.
Well, here's the deal. If you aren't already in the top one percent of income earners, you probably won't ever be. Hate to break this you, but it's the truth. So does that mean you won't ever be truly happy? Not necessarily.
I say "not necessarily" because indeed there are some of us who simply won't rest until they are filthy rich. They view anything short of attaining that level of wealth as a failure that will keep them from being completely fulfilled in life. If they can't have the expensive cars, big homes, pricey clothes, jewelry, boats, exotic vacations, botox treatments, breast augmentations, liposuction, and all those other trappings of money, well... life just isn't good enough.
While this sounds silly when typed out, all of us know that deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, we have these feelings - some of us more often than others. We have those days when we feel like failures, like we could be doing better, and would like to be "living large" like people we went to college with, or that guy down the street with the $50,000 SUV and a perfectly manicured lawn.
And then, if we listen for it, the voice of reason speaks to us, reminding us what is really important in life. Believe it or not, my voice of reason comes in the form of Dr. Hawkeye Pierce from the TV show M*A*S*H.
"Hawkeye," or should I say, Alan Alda was being interviewed on TV a few years ago, and something he said really resonated with me. He said people need to measure the success in their lives based on themselves, not by someone else's yardstick. If you keep comparing your life to someone else's, you simply aren't going to be satisfied. Even if you reach what seems to be an unobtainable goal, there's always going to be someone else more successful, making more money, having more stuff, and so on. Your life becomes a fool's errand, and is actually more worthless than ever.
In other words, certainly few of us are ever going to achieve the fame, wealth and notoriety of Alda, who has been in the entertainment industry for more than 40 years. But, if we set realistic goals for ourselves, based on our own talents, backgrounds and opportunities, we can feel great when we achieve those goals - not the same benchmarks as Alda, or someone like Hillary Clinton or Tom Brady has.
For my money (pun intended), I'll measure my worth as a person by the kind of father, husband and son I am, not by the dollars I have in the bank. You can always make money one way or another, but you can't replace your family members. Believe me, that's been a big message for me this year, and no one is going to take that away from me.
Does money truly buy happiness? What do you think? Please share your thoughts with me! Here's an article from WebMD on this topic.