I read an interesting article in Vanity Fair magazine the other day about Perfection Anxiety, and it discussed how extreme wealth may actually be a burden. The article proposes that when money is limitless, it ceases to make one happy. We’ve all fantasized about winning the lottery, (I know I have) and becoming rich beyond our wildest imaginations. Rich enough to quit our 9 to 5ers, rich enough to buy that expensive sports car or take your friends to a fancy dinner….every night. What if this fantasy was just that, and if extreme wealth was really a burden?
Statistics show that money does make you happier, but only up to about $50,000/year. After that, the more money you have, the less it matters. Think of it this way, if you gave a starving man a cheeseburger, that one cheeseburger would make him really happy. If you gave a starving man 2 cheeseburgers, the second probably wouldn’t make him as happy as the first, but it may make him a little bit happier in comparison to how happy he felt after the first one. If you gave a starving man 8 cheeseburgers, he would not feel 8 times happier than he did after the first one. It’s the same with money. Money can give you the things that you need and want, and this will make you happier, however only to a certain extent.
The Vanity Fair article explains that when one has too much money, it “stops working” to make you happier. I wrote a post about happiness and how we don’t just want to experience happiness, but we also want to achieve it. In fact, in order to feel truly happy, we must also experience sadness in contrast. Think of how happy and excited you feel when you buy something you’ve been lusting after for a while, something you’ve saved up for. Think of how grateful we feel when a loved one buys us a present we’ve really wanted for a long time; that high you get when you get that new iPhone or super nice yoga mat. Now, imagine you could buy anything you wanted, always and forever, and suddenly that excitement, anticipation, gratitude is lost. It’s important to have goals, things we can’t yet attain, because we feel a sense of pleasure in working towards these goals and then a sense of accomplishment when we reach a goal.
If you are among the extremely wealthy, I’m sorry. Let me know if I’ve gotten it wrong. If you are not among the extremely wealthy, you get to take this moment to be grateful that you can still derive pleasure from things. We get to feel grateful that we have things to work for, presents to give, and get, and we can still derive simple pleasure from saving up for a special treat. And remember, winning the lottery probably won’t solve your problems, so enjoy the moment : ) Happy Weekend!
“What?” you might ask “how is having a bad day pleasurable?”
Just hear me out. This week I had a bad day. It wasn’t the kind of bad day where you spill coffee on yourself or get stuck in traffic. It was the kind of bad day where everything feels hopeless, you doubt whether or not you are on the right path in life, and whether you will ever obtain your goals. It’s the kind of bad day where all of your fears, doubts, and stressors for the past month culminate and simultaneously express their presence. It’s been depressingly foggy here for the past month, which probably hasn’t helped my mood and I had to go pay my tuition for the fall semester of graduate school, which is always stressful.
Matt and I went to the beach. Our favorite beach and I told him how I was feeling: everything that I was afraid of at the moment, and everything that had stressed me out over the past week or so. I almost cried but didn’t (this wasn’t quite that kind of bad day) but I still felt a release and Matt pointed out that I was so far into the future, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. He said “you’re just like me Hun” and I said “I’m just like everyone” and in that moment I remembered that this doubt and this fear, if nothing else, is what connects every human to one another. Of course, some suffer more than others, and about different things, but everyone, at some point, and probably often, suffers and fears, and doubts. In the social work program people speak of “the worried well” as a snide way to dig at the wealthy who seek therapy or at the therapists who treat the wealthy. It’s a term that denotes the idea that those with monetary wealth don’t have “real” problems, or don’t suffer. I would argue the contrary. I believe that we all suffer and must suffer. If we don’t have money to worry about, our mind will find other insecurities to focus on.
In “The Geography of Bliss” Weiner has this poignant moment where he’s smoking marijuana at a café in the Netherlands and wondering if being high is the reason the people there are so happy. He poses a question to the reader asking something like “if you could have a procedure done to your brain that caused you to feel pleasure always, and there were no possibilites of complications, would you do it?”. Think about this question for a second. Would you have the procedure to feel pleasure every second of every day? If the answer is no, then Weiner explains that you believe happiness must be earned; that in order to truly feel happy, one must not only earn this happiness, but also, at times, experience unhappiness. Everything experienced is relative. Following this philosophy, without unhappiness, one cannot have happiness. Without bad days, one cannot have good days, or even great days.
Without a really shitty yoga class, one cannot understand the elation felt after truly being in the zone, going through the asanas with a clear mind and relaxed body. Without a good, hard cry now and again can we have a truly good hard laugh? Rumi said that even grief and sorrow was a cause for rapture, I believe, because these extreme forms of emotion are also extreme forms of expression; a sign that we are truly and vividly alive.
So, I had a shitty day. I felt hopeless. I felt doubt. I felt fear and despair and sadness. But it also pushed me to realize that I was too far into the future. It forced me to stop and refocus my energy on the present. It caused me to make a mental list in my head about all of the things I was grateful for, and I realized that according to my values I really did have a lot. I am rich with love and I feel like I know who I am. I know where I want to go in life but am also open to the possibility that life could take me in a different direction. So, in the end the bad day changed me for the better, if not in the long run, at least in that moment. It made way for me to have a good day, and reminded me that perspective has the power to define a moment. I was able to change mine, and so my simple pleasure for the week was that bad day.