Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The price of happiness? $75,000? Less?

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes this week (read it on Wednesday's Viewpoint page) about new wave evangelist David Platt, who became the youngest megachurch leader in America at 26 when he took over as head of a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala. But his recent book, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream,” calls into question a lot of what goes on in many megachurches, which he calls an environment for comfortable Christianity, which urges more and more material things.

Platt says people should give up such wealth. Live as if you made $50,000 a year, he suggests, and give everything else away.

Brooks thinks that general message has struck a chord with a lot of people but he doesn't see "Americans renouncing the moral materialism at the core of their national identity."

Well, for their happiness, maybe they should at least put it in better perspective. That's what a new study cited in Time Magazine this week tried to do.

The study analyzed the responses of 450,000 Americans polled by Gallup and Healthways in 2008 and 2009. It found that no matter how much money over $75,000 people make, they don't report any greater degree of happiness than those making $75,000. On the other hand, the lower a person's annual income falls below $75,000, the unhappier he or she feels, the study said.

This study from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School has caveats, of course. There are actually two types of happiness, it notes. "There's your changeable, day-to-day mood: whether you're stressed or blue or feeling emotionally sound. Then there's the deeper satisfaction you feel about the way your life is going — the kind of thing Tony Robbins tries to teach you. While having an income above the magic $75,000 cutoff doesn't seem to have an impact on the former (emotional well-being), it definitely improves people's Robbins-like life satisfaction."

Researchers found that lower income did not cause sadness itself but made people feel more ground down by the problems they already had.

So, what do you think?

Is there a monetary number you associate with happiness or life satisfaction? Has all the emphasis on material things made people less happy?


tarhoosier said...

If the people in your church look just like you, and you are comfortable and have not been challenged by your fellow pew members or pastor, you are in the wrong church

chrlt37 said...

Two different answers: To the first, not really, or if so, it would be a lot more than $75K. To the second, yes.
As to the first, for the past 5 years, I've made over $100K/yr. (as a single person) and it just seems like my Dad was right - your expenses will always simply grow to meet your income. My life doesn't seem to be all that much better than it did when I made $25K/yr. 15 years ago. Granted, I have a nice house in a good neighborhood instead of an small apartment in a questionable one, and I drive a nicer car (one that has A/C vs. one that didn't), but homeownership comes with it's own problems, my car is a lot more expensive than my old '92 base model Tercel, and my work is much more stressful, involves extensive travel and is expensive - there are a lot of things that can't be claimed on an expense report. Don't get me wrong, in some ways it certainly is better - my bank account doesn't go negative these days, I can take trips within reason when I want to, and I don't worry about where the next tank of gas is coming from. However, in this day and age, even $100K a year can't buy security in an uncertain economy, especially if you are a single earner - I don't technically have anyone else to support [altho I help various family members out], but I also don't have anyone else's income to fall back on if things go sour [I know full well that those same family members aren't going to kick in a dime if something happens to me]. Also, extremely high paying jobs are harder to find in a lot of cases than ones that pay less. Long answer, short - I'd say if I made $250K I think I'd be pretty happy; that way I could save so much money that even if it only lasted a couple years I'd probably be able to live off savings for a long time.
As to the second, I think it has - mainly because TV and movies, etc. have given everyone the (false) impression that everyone can and should live like a rock star (see the song by Nickelback) and if they don't or can't there is something wrong with them, with society, etc. My parents grew up in the midwest during the Depression and both of them agree it seems like people were indeed happier/more satisfied then - they didn't have much, but since nobody else had much, either, on balance, it seemed like most people were at least OK with their lot; today nobody seems to be happy with their lot unless they are multi-millionaires. To an extent it was probably ignorance is bliss (you can't miss/pine for that which you don't even know exists) but sometimes maybe that's not such a bad thing - our expectations have grown, but there really aren't that many more multimillionaires now than there were in the '30s.

Anonymous said...

"Platt says people should give up such wealth. Live as if you made $50,000 a year, he suggests, and give everything else away."

Preferably to Platt's megachurch, I'll bet...

Robert said...

I think there needs to be a distinction between happiness and quality of life. Money can buy comfort but happiness is priceless and independent of accumulated wealth or belongings. http://www.capturinghappiness.com/changing-lanes/ explains that happiness is a decision, a choice that needs to be made every morning – and often several more times during the day.