Bertrand Russell used to say, "Beggars do not envy millionaires, though of course they will envy other beggars who are more successful."
In 2013, this no longer holds true.
With platforms like Twitter and Instagram, the lives of the rich and famous are more exposed than ever, opening the door for envy from all sides. At one point in time, the lives of the privileged were kept private from the public; people knew the Carnegie's were a family of status, for example, but their day-to-day lives and possessions were carefully hidden from the public eye. Yet today, a simple scroll through Instagram will give you glimpses of the fabulous parties Cara Delevingne attends, Kim Kardashian's latest purchase, or Gwyneth Paltrow's beautiful, picture-perfect beach vacation with Chris, Apple and Moses.
So what does this mean for the rest of society, following these lives of luxury on the morning commute to the office?
We are naturally wired (and it is part of our culture) to always want more; being exposed to all degrees of wealth and the opportunities it brings can leave us feeling unsatisfied with our own lives. At one time, it was an out of sight, out of mind phenomenon: people didn't feel unsatisfied because they knew nothing more than their own lifestyle.
These changing circumstances have caused us to reach new levels of emotional attachment to money and the pursuit of wealth. Which makes me wonder: Does acquiring wealth make us happy?
To begin with, not everything is as good as it seems. According to a recent Time Magazine poll, 76 per cent of respondents believe other people make themselves look happier, more attractive and more successful than they actually are on their Facebook page. It's easy to develop the "grass is greener" mentality, but take these things with a grain of salt. Social media allows us to carefully craft how we want others to perceive us. We may associate the image of a luxury car, designer handbag or infinity pool with being happy, but there is no way to tell how happy people really are based on an Instagram post!
It comes down to the choices we make. You may have chosen a lifestyle you're happy with that brings you financial success, however if you're unhappy in your career path and seeking a different lifestyle (more time with the family, less stress), financial success won't offer the type of fulfilment you're after. We need to own the choices we make and be prepared to accept the sacrifices that ensue. We tend to grow up with an expectation that we can have it all, however it comes down to priorities; sometimes what we achieve is not what we expected. We even buy things thinking they will cheer us up and make us happy; they call it "Retail Therapy" for a reason!
Don't get me wrong, I do believe in the power of a good cheer-me-up purchase. But though that new pair of Louboutins offer an initial mood boost, it's temporary and won't fix the root of what's wrong. The same goes for when you buy something you've been emotionally invested in for some time, like a car or your first condo; sometimes we make these purchases and unexpectedly are left feeling underwhelmed or empty. We risk disappointing ourselves when we place high expectations on the satisfaction that money (and its purchasing power) can bring.
Give back. Whenever we do something at NKPR that benefits the company, I make sure we are simultaneously giving back in some way by supporting a third party like Artists for Peace and Justice or Camp Oochigeas. I am a big advocate of this -- it is important to give of yourself! Contributing towards a cause I believe in makes me feel grateful and appreciative of what I have, and I think a balanced life requires a harmony between giving and taking. In this sense, money can bring happiness, not only to the recipient but to you, the giver, as well because when it comes to charitable donations, money allows us to give back and make a real difference.
Be appreciative. There are a lot of things that money can buy that many of us take for granted: access to health care, warmth, food, shelter, transportation... "First World" things that we tend to expect will always be there since they've become fixtures in our lifestyle. Yes, money can buy comfort and security, but the power of wealth is relative; as your income grows, so do your spending opportunities. We want to keep pursuing bigger and "better" things. But if our desires outpace what we can afford, money can destroy happiness, regardless of our income level. With this in mind, I think it's important to take moments to reflect on things we can be grateful for, a glass half-full approach to life. Instead of thinking I WANT this, be grateful that you HAVE that.
It's easy to become accustomed to a certain lifestyle; however life is full of change, and things rarely (if ever) stay the same. Knowing this, it's important to reflect on our relationship with money and how attached we are to our current lifestyle. With money comes comfort and security, yet this can be taken away from us in an instant (just look at the 2008 recession). Investing too much of our happiness in something so impermanent leaves us at risk of becoming sad or depressed. It's interesting to stop and reflect on how you would react should you be forced to alter your lifestyle -- it can be a scary yet eye-opening exercise. Most of us tend to try to ignore these "what if" thoughts, but if we can keep this in mind, we protect ourselves from becoming too invested in our personal (potentially-fleeting) wealth.
What do you think? Do you feel money makes you happy? I think you'll get different answers depending on people's respective circumstances. For some, a lack of money causes anxiety, yet the fear of losing money can be equally worrisome. At the end of the day, I don't think we can directly say that money is a source of happiness, but I do think it can provide us with comforts and experiences that lead to happiness. It comes down to our attitudes and expectations. We need to be able to look at wealth objectively, to give back, be appreciative and unattached to wealth for wealth's sake in order for money to bring us the fulfilment and happiness that we all seek in life.
As Dale Carnegie said in his timeless book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, "It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it."
(CAUTION: Slideshow contains strong language.)