Wait - now money can buy happiness?

Jordan J. Ballor

Marta L.
May 19, 2013

Your discussion here (and this may be more a problem with the study you're reacting to) seems to use several concepts interchangeably: things like the good, happiness, well-being, and satisfaction. I'm not sure they mean the same thing.

For instance, satisfaction and happiness are clearly different. Say someone is a food gourmet with both exacting standards and the ability to enjoy food at a level that most people simply wouldn't appreciate. He'd get much more happiness out of a fine meal than I would, but also would be much less likely to be satisfied. I think you could also make the case that happiness is subjective: it is a sentiment, a state of being that relies on perception. (If I enjoy kissing a live toad each morning, this experience would make me happy even if it is --best case-- neutral to my well-being.) These distinctions seem to matter, because while money may be happiness, it's not clear that this is all that matters.

On the question of whether this research should prompt us to redistribute the wealth: the other studies you point to definitely mean we should help the poor in the right way. And I definitely agree that in the long-term, correcting injustices that keep poor people (globally or within a given community's context) from earning money need to be corrected.

But I suspect that poor people don't feel as happy having money given to them because we draw a connection in our culture between earning and deserving. If we give people money and insinuate that they couldn't make it on their own we're going to patronize them and of course that will affect both happiness and well-being. If on the other hand we recognize that there are factors beyond their control that keep them from flourishing, that this is an injustice and we are trying to correct that injustice by giving them money that (if things had been fair) they could have earned on their own - that sends a very different message, I think.

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