You Don’t Need Money to Be Happy

It turns out that the Beatles were right: We do all live in a yellow submarine. Baby, you can drive my car. She was just 17. And of course, money can’t buy me love. Or, in the words of the lovely journalist Kate Davey:

Although more people are worried about the economy and the job market, several polls indicate that such concerns have had little impact on their happiness.In fact, writes Bruce Grierson in Psychology Today, adversity and failure can actually make some people stronger and more flexible than they would have been otherwise.

from: Polls Suggest You Don’t Need Money to Be Happy at findingDulcinea

I am a big believer that strength and flexibility can spring from some kind of deficit (now that my yoga practice is start to suck less again) and I am big fan testing limits in order to grow. I am also a big fan of author Felicia Sullivan, who in her writing and in her life, exudes these qualities. Tonight, I saw Felicia, and another inordinately talented and funny writer friend of mine, Jessie Male, read at KGB Bar’s Drunken Careening Writers reading series (free!). All three readers (Ann Elliot, not my friend but I wish she was, was there too) proved that less than desirable circumstances were breeding grounds for humor, compassion and fruitful literary exploration. Jessie had to deal with insanity as a editor at a grocery store trade magazine, Felicia coped with a drug addicted, narcissistic mother, and Ann had to come up with strategies to hide the fact that she was crying at her desk for most of the day, for most of a year.

But it was afterward, over dinner at Whole Foods, that Felicia truly revealed to me how it is you can be happy without money: samples and giveaways. Felicia promised me that it’s ok to get free samples at Sephora (I already knew that you could swing by to put on make-up before going out, but the samples were a revelation). And, because of her connections to beauty writers/marketers, Felicia is able to offer the occasional give-away on her blog. Personally, I once won Redken shampoo and conditioner. It was happiest day of my life–and totally money-free!

But as it turns out, according to Daniel Gilbert blogging for the Happy Days column at the New York Times, the reason that samples and freebies have the power to make us happy is because we are certain they will be there. It’s not lack of money that makes us depressed, Gilbert argues. It’s fear of the unknown:

Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about. [full article]

Gilbert makes the excellent point that once we hear bad news, we cope with it and move on. But wondering if and when we’re going to hear bad news makes us truly freakin’ insane…. Maybe we can still fix it! Maybe there’s reason to hope. Maybe there’s something we can do. In Gilbert’s book, Stumbling into Happiness, he makes the point that we’re incapable of predicting what we want, but constantly feel that we should be planning for the future. He doesn’t make this point exactly in the article, but I think the problem with uncertainty is that nagging feeling that if we just did ____, then the bad thing wouldn’t happen.

But it’s a Catch-22 because inherent in uncertainty is that we can’t figure out what the next best step is. So, uncertainty + (ambition/anxiety) = unhappiness. But if we could pull the anxiety out of equation and wait patiently without the frenetic wondering, we might have a little peace.

I think its a good strategy. Because ultimately, the Beatles were right: Life goes on.

(Warning: If you are uncertain about who these weird cartoons are, you are normal. If you know, I can’t help you.)


5 thoughts on “You Don’t Need Money to Be Happy

  1. Rachel! Great post–it’s especially timely, as there seems to be a collective rethinking of how one/people relate/s to uncertainty. And by the way, I’m glad to know that other people use Sephora that way, too. I thought I was the only one.

  2. The fear of the unknown is definitely it. Money isn’t enough because money doesn’t answer every question. There are certain questions (like the one in my post today) that require more.

  3. I knew a guy who was in the submarine corps in the navy, and said he dropped acid in a sub…which I don’t think was anything like the Yellow Submarine…so I thought he was nuts.

    I tend to think there are all kinds of different miseries that can hit us in all kinds of different circumstances. Certainly, it’s nice to live in circumstances where even the bottom is still pretty high (if I ended up completely broke, I’d go live with my mom–which would mean forsaking a good bit of my pride, and privacy, but I’d enjoy daily access to her swimming pool). At the same time, it’s amazing to think of how many things we in more affluent societies NEED…like computers and access to mass media and food that tastes really good rather than simply keeping us from being hungry…and all those needs create an incredible amount of anxiety about losing all or any of that…while, Like Bob Dylan sang “when you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose”….

  4. Great post! I think that out of these frightening times good thing can spring up and bloom. I have to believe that to keep going sometimes.


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