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Can money buy happiness?

Why is it that every time someone asks this question, there is always a rhetorical undertone? People do not REALLY wish to hear your answer, do they? What they want is for you to agree with their opinion, and therein lies the problem.

The answer to the question of happiness is

a. Extremely personal and subjective

b. Not absolute throughout time and circumstance

c. Much simpler than we think

Ask this question to a daily wage worker who lost his job during the pandemic. He won't say yes. He'll probably whack you, take your wallet and run away. Not really. 😂 He probably won't smack you on the head, but it is definitely one of the things that will run through his head. For someone who is finding it difficult to make ends meet for days on end, money not only buys happiness, it IS happiness.

But turn the table over and ask this question to a millionaire who just lost his father due to the very same pandemic. What do you think his answer will be? Sounds almost like a no-brainer, right? But the same millionaire was probably strutting around the trading floor last Saturday, boasting about the thousands of dollars that he pocketed as commission!

Btw, have you noticed how no stockbroker has ever been portrayed as a docile, responsible citizen? 😝 They are always cocky, arrogant, and too big for their shoes and fancy suits. Nice stockbrokers are only as real as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. No, wait. There is an outside chance that the school might exist. 😄

Anyway, the pandemic is just one such circumstance that can completely change your view on money and whether it has any power over happiness. The point is that it is fucking okay to say yes to that question when you feel like it!

I wish that I was sitting on the porch of a sprawling farmhouse, enjoying the summer breeze while I write this post. But I do not own a farmhouse. Why? Because I don't have enough money! It's not a matter of whether I have money for the farmhouse. It is a matter of whether I have enough money left over after I spend some on the car of my choice, save and invest some for the future and discount all the expenses that afford me the same lifestyle that I currently enjoy. Yeah, I don't have that kind of money.

And no, loans are not money. A loan is a fancy way to spend money that you don't have, on something that you probably won't need, to appease a few folks that are not going to share in the instalments.

So, it is true. When I think of the farmhouse, I definitely think about how the lack of money blocks my happiness. But, what an idiot I am! Who says that I need to stay in a big city and dream of having a farmhouse? Why can't I just stay in a farmhouse and trust myself to figure out a way through the rest? Working from home is a reasonable option for some jobs in the future. And if not that, the 'organic' dairy industry in India is currently hotter than bitcoin at some level.

Damn, that's the first time that I've referred to the dairy industry as hot. If that doesn't earn me a one-way ticket to the anti-bhakt party, then I don't know what will!

The main problem is not the lack of money. Our definition of happiness compounds based on our expectations and the legacy passed down to us in the name of 'culture'. I appreciate family values, but the responsibility of purchasing a house, saving up for your kids' education and just putting your life on hold for a generation to follow does not sit right with me.

Why should it?

But this is me on a Wednesday. On the weekend, when I've rested enough, the farmhouse disappears from my thoughts and my mind. I am happy doing the things that I love. I spend some time debating random topics with my wife, watch the F1 race scheduled for the weekend, read a book or two on my Kindle, and stuff my face with some spicy Indo-Chinese takeaway. I am happy, and none of this requires much money. Of course, there is a cost associated with the house that I stay in, the screen I watch the race on, and the food I eat. But I'd spend 1/10th of that amount on all those things, and my happiness would probably only drop by 1/10th.

I am obviously not counting any cost against the time spent debating with my wife for two reasons -

  1. Just as Mastercard points out, some things in life are priceless

  2. My wife could argue that the debate is a cost for her and that she is the one who gains nothing out of them! 😄

And this is just a description of one of the many happy weekends. Not all my weekdays are despicable too! And at times, they are a wild mix of morbid thoughts and bursts of joy. But the equation is never balanced on every day, every hour. I spent a modest shit-load of money on an SUV that I liked, which I haven't driven outside a 20km radius for the past three months. Am I happy? The first time I could step out of the house after a three-week lockdown, I took the same car on a two-hour run across town to let the summer breeze soak in. That made me happy, but I didn't spend any more than a few litres of petrol, and that's pocket change, right?

So what's the deal with this money-happiness equation, then?

Analytically speaking, the relationship is far from linear, and the curve is too personal to standardise. As much as these two entities interconnect freely, there's always that one external 'novel' factor that can invert the entire equation. But, observe this over a period longer than life itself, and you'll spot a pattern. Happiness grows exponentially with money for some time, then the trend becomes linear, with the slope ever-decreasing until you reach a point beyond which happiness won't increase any further. That's the point at which money CANNOT buy happiness.

But, I am not at that point yet. Most of us aren't.

So yes, at times, money can buy happiness. On other occasions where money may fail, happiness can still flourish on the back of relationships, conversations, communications and memories. So, while money does not necessarily buy happiness, the inverse is also unequivocally true.

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