It is common to say that money can’t buy happiness. The truth is not quite so simple, as explained on the page A Look at Money and Happiness. As pointed out there, if curing disease, relieving poverty or building a church can in any way bring any small measure of happiness to people, then money can at the very least help arrange conditions that are conducive to being happy. This page, then, takes a look at the “how.”
How do we use money more wisely? How do we use it to bring about a better life in personal matters and in the world? Another way to look at this is to ask, “What can we do differently to make money actually more valuable?”
Personal Happiness and Money
It has been said in various ways that people’s true intentions are not expressed in words but in how they spend their time, energy and money. Combine that thought with a monthly tracking of every penny spent and some of us might feel a bit depressed about ourselves. But the truth should never be depressing. It is an opportunity to learn and grow.
If, for example, you think that happiness is more likely to be found in good spiritual principles and practices than in having a new car every three years, you can do something about it. Divert just a bit of that money into buying some great books and programs that encourage real spiritual growth. Or if it is time for meditation and reflection that you need, money can buy that too. Spend less on frivolous things and you can afford to take a week at a time off work.
Or perhaps what you need in life right now is better living conditions and healthier foods to eat. Money certainly can buy those. Find ways to make more and be sure to apply those gains to what matters.
Get a notebook and start listing everything you buy for a month or two along with how much you spent. You’ll very likely find that your spending habits don’t entirely match your deepest desires. Why not change that? That notebook contains valuable information you can use to learn about yourself and why you are where you are.
You can argue money can’t buy happiness, but it buys something. What are you buying with yours?
Buying Happiness for Others
Again, we can argue about the definitions of “buy” and “happiness,” but we can also see clearly that we can buy medicine, books, food and clothing. And if we get these things for those who don’t have them, isn’t it also clear that we can make life better in some ways? But how do we use money wisely when spending it on others?
This is not an easy question to answer. Some general principles stand out, of course. For example, it seems that it is wiser to spend money on teaching a man how to fish than in buying fish for him. On the other hand people sometimes need to eat today before they can even have the energy to think about how to feed themselves tomorrow.
Despite a few wise principles we might extract from experience, the question of how to help others is a case-by-case matter. To be honest, I don’t have any decent answers. My own experience is full of examples where I or others have given help that hurt. Give a friend money to get into an apartment, for example, and maybe you just help him into an expense he can’t really afford, leading to bankruptcy.
Then there are the examples on a larger scale. Help a million irresponsible people into mortgages they can’t handle and you don’t cure their irresponsibility – you just make the consequences worse. Lend money to corrupt governments of poor nations and you enslave future generations who must work in poverty to pay those debts.
I have become somewhat skeptical of most of the ways we try to help others with money. It seems that small gifts that show our love might have some value, and that when people are truly changing their ways money can help with that. But in a rich nation full of opportunities money is rarely the thing that people need most. It may be better to help people in other, poorer countries, where we can buy necessary food and education and even economic development.
Maybe money can’t buy happiness for ourselves or others, but there are many things it can buy. Again this suggests that we take a serious look at how we use it.