Is money or charity the key to our happiness?
Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 17:07
Everyone has heard the old saying, "Money doesn't buy you happiness," but what does that even mean? Money buys me a trip to Paris with my family, doesn't that make me happy? Money allows me to buy insurance for my house and health care for the people I love, doesn't that make me happy? Money allows me better security, freedom and luxuries, all of which make me happy.
Yet America is ranked 14th in the world for happiness according to Forbes Magazine, despite taking in more money than any other country in the world; more than two times as much as second-place China.
Statistics like these are hard to fathom in America. We live in a culture that, at its core, believes in the American dream of happiness: owning a business, making good money for your family and getting a job where you can afford that trip to Paris. These are all great ideals, but it's also important to see what we've lost by becoming the great superpower that we are today.
For instance, Americans take an average of 14 days off of work a year, according to ABC News. Compare this to the English, who take off 24 days a year, and the French, who vacation an average of 39 days a year. According to the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis, we also work 50 percent more than Germans, French and Italians. Thanks to issues like these, Americans are, on average, twice as stressed as what is considered safe for human health, according to the American Psychological Association. Furthermore, our insistence on constantly calling for lower taxes, yet refusing to cut any programs we like, has left us more than $14 trillion in debt.
What's interesting to note is that this hasn't always been the case. In the 1970s, America was at a crossroads: America's dependence on foreign oil had come back to bite us, the economy was stagnant and inflation was soaring. The United States was in a state of loss, not sure where to head after Watergate and the hippie movement. President Jimmy Carter started to notice that American culture had begun to "worship self-indulgence and consumption." He confronted the issue head-on in 1979, telling the American people that there are two paths to choose, the path of greed or the path of helping those that need it the most.
The next year, the people made their choice and they voted out Carter and elected Ronald Reagan, who ran promising to cut taxes and take away regulations from industries.
Reagan took the gross federal debt from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion, according to the Ludwig von Mises Institute. More important than that though, the culture of America changed. According to the American Psychological Association, since 1982 personal savings have gone from 11 percent to below zero. Personal Consumption Expenditures leapt from $15,800 in 1980 to $26,300 per person in 2005, according to independent investment management firm Muhlenkamp and Company, Inc. Yet despite all of this spending, according to a study done at Harvard, our happiness has slightly declined since the 1980s.
So here we sit at another crossroads: more than $14 trillion in debt, and talking about restructuring the U.S. government in ways unprecedented in American history. Everyone keeps talking about this in terms of numbers, but what we should be asking is deeper, more critical. Who are we, as a people, right now in this generation? Will we continue running toward the pursuit of money, or will we slow down and decide in creating a better quality of life? Do we continue to "worship self-indulgence," like Carter said in 1979, or do we decide to help our neediest of citizens? These are the decisions a generation makes that defines them forever. We have to decide if we continue to chase this myth of happiness by net worth, or if we want to make real substantive changes to the way we view the American dream. This is the choice our generation faces.