Money and happiness are intimately connected; at least that’s the conventional wisdom. Yet extensive research has shown that the connection between money and happiness is, at best, questionable. Once an individual’s basic needs are met, there is little correlation between an increase in personal wealth and an increase in feelings of well-being. Above a moderate level of income – the amount varies with each country’s standard of living – there may, in fact, be diminishing returns for higher income.
Most countries measure the well-being of their citizens by the level and growth of their country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product). GDP, however, looks only at quantifiable output and, therefore, excludes quality of life considerations: the purity and availability of fresh water, green forests and clean air. No amount of money will compensate for an environment where the air is too polluted to breathe or the water too toxic to drink.
In countries where the economy is growing, there is usually an equal increase in hard-to-dispose-of waste and unsustainable resource depletion. The fact that natural or man-made catastrophes actually boost a country’s GDP makes its value, as a gauge of well-being, even more dubious. For example, if there is a fatal plane crash, GDP increases as workers are hired to clear debris, unanticipated funerals are arranged, a new plane is built to replace the one destroyed and lawyers are employed to file lawsuits on behalf of the victims. In such situations, increases in GDP often create conditions that conflict with the well-being of a country’s citizens.
If popular opinion – that wealth is the sources of happiness – is misleading or inaccurate, what is it that actually makes us happy or unhappy? Let’s start by exploring the unhappy state in which most people find themselves the majority of time. We are unhappy when we are anxious, confused, depressed, fearful or generally dissatisfied with our life circumstances. These psychological states can lead to mental agitation, emotional stress and physical illness. Feelings of anxiety, fear, anger and confusion are common as deadlines loom, bills go unpaid, responsibilities at home and work become overwhelming and unethical behavior pervades all levels of society.
According to Aristotle, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” If happiness is universally desired, why is it so elusive? Could we be looking in the wrong place? Popular images of happiness include: accumulating a certain level of assets, attaining fame or power or eliminating a nagging concern such as illness or personal rejection. Most people believe that once they satisfy a particular desire a happier life will follow.
These desires are focused on the outer, material aspects of life; if they are not realized, we tend to blame fate, other people or circumstances beyond our control. We know that satisfying external desires brings us, at best, a fleeting sense of happiness. The purchase of a new car, for example, makes most people feel happy. But the euphoria soon fades as we struggle to pay for the new car or worry that it might be dented or scratched.
So, what really makes us happy? According to Pathwork lecture 232 (www.pathwork.org). The key to happiness and abundance is changing over to a new level of operation on which the old attitude of taking, wanting, demanding and not giving is transformed into an attitude of love, giving, devotion and sincerity.