It’s one of those things that’s hammered into your brain before you’re even old enough to need it. A platitude that is nearly universal and rarely questioned: “Money can’t buy happiness.”
As one of countless students participating in the modern postsecondary education system and as someone with a few years of paid work under her belt, I can’t help but ask: Really?
Sure, money itself isn’t happiness. Money is paper or metal, or a series of ones and zeros in the case of online banking, and it isn’t inherently more valuable or noteworthy than anything else. Certainly money can’t literally buy an emotion (unless we’re talking about drugs, but that’s an argument for another day and will probably require a solid dystopian author). But it can buy a hell of a lot else.
Money can buy books and coffee, a huge source of selfish solace for me personally. It can buy calming, reassuring, or joyous music and art. And it can buy flowers on Mother’s Day and ice cream for hurting friends, and helping loved ones can certainly make us feel happier.
On an even simpler and more important level, money can buy security. Money can buy food to fill the stomach and space to find shelter from the outside world. Money can buy insurance, healthcare, and access to good education. All of these things are arguably downright necessary for happiness. (See: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs)
Here is where I begin to see that platitude as something based on classist assumptions. For those of us who can’t remember the last time we went hungry to keep the lights on, sure, the idea of seeking happiness outside the world of money holds an almost Romantic excitement. But while money isn’t everything, it certainly isn’t nothing. In modern, industrialized society, it’s what many of us need to use in order to stay healthy and secure and to protect our families. It’s what’s needed to secure a quality post-secondary education, and the lack of it is what’s crippling our generation right out of the scholastic gate.
Money can’t buy happiness. But its presence or absence can largely influence our ability to secure the necessary resources for happiness. And that is an important distinction, one that we need to consider before commenting on the career and life choices of our friends and neighbors. For some, sacrificing focusing on the things we love for a better-paying job might seem ridiculous, even self-destructive. But for others, the extra security money brings might be crucial for the education of their children, the treatment of a chronic illness, or even their own peace of mind.
In short: Let’s all lighten up about how others treat money, hey?