Can you buy happiness? This question brings me back to the theology class I attended when I was a university student in the Philippines, nearly two decades ago. The topic has cropped up through a group discussion about Morality and Commercialism; and how young people should recognize the significance of Faith and Prayers to preserve one’s moral standard and values. Even in meticulous catholic universities, the issue of deteriorating ethics and moral principles of its students is a portrait of reality. The influence of education (even at that time) as far as morality is concerned was slowly showing signs of waning and silent disregard.
From the same group discussion, many social issues were inevitably brought upon, including drug addiction, corruption, abortion, premarital sex, amongst others. Back then, these were forefront indicators (at least in that particular location of the earth) to recognize the level of morality a society has. With wide-ranging arguments flying around the classroom, on the impact of these to our individual lives, our respective purpose to this world, and the subtle defiant against Christian teachings; our enduring theology teacher called our attention and asked us to define a fulfilled and happy life based on the philosophy that we individually clung to. Then as we seriously figured out the best answer we could write, one funny classmate stood up and enquired; ‘Is it the commercial happiness?’.
When asked what he meant by it and if he was serious, he was confident and began to enumerate many (indeed) fonts of commercial happiness that could fulfil a hungry and ambitious young mind. He mentioned about the happiness travelling around the world if he had lots of money, and the fulfilment that went along if one could have anything he wanted every minute of his life. That whether we like it or not, most people’s happiness is reliant upon material things; and that a person who has less in life finds happiness so elusive. If you have money, you could buy happiness anywhere at anytime. If life is short, then at least you enjoy every bit of it. In other words, your financial standing is a gauge to a happy life.
So then, if money is the measure of happiness; the poorest amongst the poor does not have any chance to be happy. I begged to disagree in peace, because I knew there are lots of people who remained happy in spite of their poverty and on the contrary, many wealthy people have miserable lives. Frank McKinney Hubbard was right to say, “ It is pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness. Poverty and wealth have both failed”.
And what about the other kind of happiness, which is not commercial? Well, he said it is a state of mind; an attitude that goes beyond material things. There are few who are so blessed to find it within the simplicity of their hearts and their compassion for others. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama said; “The greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.
And yes! My university pal was right. Happiness has many perspectives. Looking at our own lives now, happiness is readily associated with money. Why do we work so hard everyday and even on weekends? An outright answer to that is to earn big and to earn more. We need to get more money so we could buy good things for our family, education for our children, and savings for the golden age. You could not be happy to find no food on your table and realize that your sons and daughters are sleeping with empty tummies; could you?. Aside from providing the basic needs of your children, it is also a source of happiness to see them excited and cheerful because of the new phone you gave them as a birthday gift, or a promise to take them to a holiday. But according to Margaret Young, “Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is a reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” In my differing view to this, is it spending that comes first rather than saving? Obviously too, you could not run a car without a fuel.
It would be hypocrisy to say that we do not need money to be happy because it has become an indispensable material to our everyday living. But I would agree that our attitude helps us recognize the extent that money becomes fundamental. Our character decides whether we are happy or not, the good thing is we could change our character. But it is wrong to say that happiness is for sale. We use money because at some circumstances, that is the only way we can share our happiness to others.