Being Happy Isn't a Utopia: Reflections on Happiness

06 January, 2020
Is being happy possible? Is money synonymous with happiness? What leads people to happiness? In this article, psychologist Marcelo Ceberio answers these and other questions and shares some reflections on happiness.

Although we all have the right to be happy, not everyone knows what happiness is and what being happy really consists of. Happiness is a purely personal and subjective concept. Therefore, every human being defines what happiness is to them.

Below, we reflect on this issue, which people often confuse with material goods, the time we spend on making money to buy time, fame, and the myth that money buys happiness. In this sense, we should mention that, sometimes, this myth leads to a catastrophic end.

Does money buy happiness?

The conceptualization of happiness has varied according to socio-cultural factors, evolutionary cycles, theoretical perspectives, and areas of science, among other things. Everyone has tried to define what being happy is, from Chinese and Greco-Roman philosophers to ethologists, neuroscientists, and psychologists, such as Darwin, Ekman, Friesen, Maslow, Freud, and Seligman, among others.

Perhaps one conclusion is that happiness, like other abstract concepts such as love, loyalty, honesty, and generosity, is difficult to define. This is because each person develops their own definition under absolutely subjective and personal parameters.

A woman being happy.

The origin of the term happiness comes from the Latin felicitas, that translates as ‘fertile’. This is a very accurate concept because, when you reread and study the different definitions of happiness, you can find this concept everywhere. In other words, fertility involves development, projection, growth, initiative, and progress, words that are synonymous with being happy.

Happiness

This concept represents a state of mind in which a human being feels satisfied, happy, and cheerful. Thus, happiness is associated with pleasure and the feeling of being happy:

  • It concatenates neuroendocrine biological factors
  • It involves the brain’s limbic system
  • Likewise, it involves emotional factors, since happiness is clearly a feeling that’s partly based on joy (one of the six basic Darwinian emotions)
  • It involves cognitive factors and leads people to think in a positive way, eliminating automatic negative thoughts and undermining sociological factors

On the other hand, you can also be “fertile” in what you do. When you feel you’re advancing in the process of achieving your goals and when you actually reach them, you feel happy. This means that fertility leads to happiness. In other words, happiness is also related to strong self-esteem and self-worth.

You should also read: Happiness Jar: An Idea Your Kids Will Love

Results of scientific studies on being happy

The phrase “Money can’t buy happiness” has been scientifically proven. Experts have shown that there’s a money threshold. For example, a person’s monthly salary, which, if exceeded, can even lead to depression. How can you explain that?

Experts have studied happiness for over 10 years. In fact, there are postgraduate studies on the neuroscience of happiness and there are world happiness reports that rank countries according to a series of standards.

Of course, happiness involves the coupling of certain neurotransmitters and neurohormones, such as serotonin, the hormone of peace, tranquility, and feelings of wellness. In this sense, lacking it can lead to depression. Also, endorphins, our internal morphine (segregated during exercise, sex, and laughter), dopamine that, among many benefits, motivates us, and, finally the love hormone, oxytocin, which is secreted in paternal or maternal situations, during hugs, and during childbirth.

Scales of happiness

On happiness scales that consist of protocols with different variables, experts detected the following:

  • In countries with serious economic problems and significant levels of poverty, the value of money is relevant to happiness.
  • However, in countries where per capita income is assured, the economic level isn’t relevant. In other words, it isn’t one of the variables that ensure happiness.

The decent wages of first world countries allow people to have access to good shelter, food, education, fun, and holidays, and an organization that supports this plan. Exceeding that income seems to be directly proportional to the obligations entailed to earn it (more time working, more taxes, property exchange, acquisition of unnecessary material goods). Thus, people have less time to do fun things. This can lead to depression, as well as stress, substance abuse, and the use of psychotropic drugs, among other things.

Money and complications

Making more money also leads to more complications. Not only the time people spend working, but also the taxes they have to pay. Also, they buy more, their credit card fees increase, and their costs increase and are more difficult to control. Earning money and complications go hand in hand.

A wealthy man.

Material or evident goods

In capitalist countries, material goods become evident goods. For example, a stunning house, a luxury car, and designer clothes…all these are synonymous with wealth. These are goods that are purchased to show status. This begs the question: Who do you need to show that you’re better than them and have more money than the average person?

The saying “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is a phrase used to counteract the relevance of the myth of the importance of money (money as a passport to the acquisition of material goods that supposedly leads to happiness).

We live in (or built) an absolutely elitist society that only considers fame, social recognition, profession or work, material goods, traveling, clothes, and eternal youth the variables of success.

We’re biologically relational beings that establish links and seek to be accepted and included in groups. The question is: under what parameters do we build inclusion and acceptance? If you decide to only focus on material goods in order to be happy, then you’re making a big mistake and straying from the right path.

Success is more “seeming to be” than actually “being”. Therefore, any material goods may be determinant of recognition.

A bad attitude

If you have this attitude, you think more about what others think of you than about your own well-being. In this sense, famous psychologist Erich Fromm developed a study on “having” and “being”. Therefore, believing that your worth is measured by what you have is an erroneous belief.

However, what people tend to forget in their crazy race to make money to buy material goods and gain recognition is that the only thing you can’t buy is time, which is what they use to make money and reach happiness. However, they never reach this pleasure because they don’t have enough time and they lead a crazy life rhythm. A beautiful and sadistic paradox.

In this regard, you may believe that a middle and lower class family that has projects may be happier than a wealthy couple. Socially, one of the great aspirational engines is desire. In other words, the lack of anything causes desire in humans. A desiring attitude is a great motivator to carry out projects or plans. And I’m talking about desire and not need.

Biological need

Although other authors speak of necessity in a biological sense (the need to drink water because you’re thirsty, for example), it’s still true that poorer classes are the ones who are neediest. In other words, they need rather than desire (although this doesn’t mean they don’t desire) work, food, health, and education.

Middle classes (mainly middle and lower-middle-class families) are those who desire the most in the short term. For example, they want to change their car for a better or newer one, or one with better mileage. Also, they worry about painting their house or getting a loan to buy their own home and stop renting. Although these don’t seem to be ostentatious aspirations, they’re big aspirations for these social classes. Higher social classes don’t tend to value these types of goals.

A couple on a road trip.

Fame, beauty, and money, a bad destiny

As you can see, happiness is an entirely subjective concept. Each society, each context of each society, each family in a context of a society, and every individual in each family develop their own concept of happiness.

The higher the social class, the higher the level of elitism and, thus, banality. Economic power suppresses desire. So, consequently, people lose aspiration. This is because there’s no motivation to obtain. In addition, the attention is focused on recognition by the environment, overshadowing personal values. Thus, in “posh” neighborhoods, people establish an unspoken competition. This “competition” is for the best mansion (mansion, not home) or the car that shows you have a higher purchasing power.

Hollywood

A good example is Hollywood stars who achieved fame, beauty, and fortune and ended up being treated for their addictions or severe depression – conditions that arose when they became celebrities and millionaires. This is because they became millionaires, but didn’t enrich their lives in other ways. In other words, they were able to make a lot of money but didn’t pay enough attention to their emotional world.

The longest-running study on world happiness from Harvard University (which lasted 80 years) demonstrated this. To conduct it, experts investigated and followed a sample of 3000 people in their lifetime. The conclusion they reached was that emotional ties such as parents, partners, children, and friends are the ones that provide true happiness. Not money.

You should also read: 7 Toxic Emotions that are Keeping You from Being Happy

If you focus too much on fame and money, you’ll inevitably neglect your emotional world. This is because it loses the relevance and value it should have. In addition, if you reach the peak of fortune, fame, and beauty, where does that leave desire?

Consequences

If the engine of desire and projection is the motivation that desire produces and you create desire by what you lack, then, logically, if you don’t lack anything, you lose desire and someone who loses desire loses focus of their existence. This can have disastrous consequences.

These consequences include addictions, as well as depression and suicide, which take the place of  the “lack”. This is because these people don’t desire anything because they believe they don’t lack anything. However, they lack true affection. In other words, although they don’t lack the luxuries of success, they lack the true love of sincere friendship, a partner, or a family.

They’re alone in the negative sense of the term, as a synonym of abandonment and marginalization of true affection. This is because they only focused on recognition. So, consequently, they obtained self-interested banal affection, not deep and selfless affection.

Elitist theories and books

Books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad or The Secret, that propose that the main goal in life should be to become a millionaire, are books that have become bestsellers because their theories are based on elitism.

These books are focused on the popular ideology that money is synonymous with happiness, recognition, and social status. In other words, they seek to delimit actions guided to make people’s banal dreams come true. There’s no denying that their authors are consistent with their actions. This is because these books have made their authors wealthy due to the royalties from the millions of copies they sold. Thus, these books changed their lives and made them famous.

At this stage of my development, I must clarify that I’m not against fame; I’m against the misuse of fame. People like recognition. However, depending on fame and making it the main goal in life is another thing. This is a very bad goal.

Being happy goes beyond this. It’s a philosophy of life. It’s knowing that there’s a good side of life despite the difficult times. Also, it’s knowing that you have people you can count on and who love you. Thus, people need to understand that love is also a component of happiness.

  • VV.AA. Harvard Study of Adult Development. https://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org