10 Reasons Why Money Can’t Make You Happy by Peter Kreeft

30 05 2013

Why Can't Money Make You Happy

Everyone seeks happiness. And everyone seeks it as a goal, is an end in itself. Nobody seeks happiness as a means to any further end. We don’t want to be happy because we think it will lead to other things, but we want other things because we think they will lead to happiness.
For instance, no one says, “What good is happiness? It cant buy money.” But some people say, “What good is money? It can’t buy happiness.” Others think money can buy happiness.
The reason one person enlists in the army and another dodges the draft is the same reason: they are both seeking happiness, but in opposite places. The reason one person marries and another does not marry is the same. Even those who commit suicide do so only because they want happiness, and they despair of finding it in life.
We don’t seek something we have already found. So if we are still seeking happiness, that means we haven’t found it yet–not enough of it, at least, not perfect happiness, not yet. We can all honestly sing with Mick Jagger “I can’t get no satisfaction” much of the time. And also his other profound line, “You can’t always get what you want.” We all want happiness, all the time, but we don’t all get it, and even when we do, we don’t get it all the time.
And yet we can’t stop seeking it. The beast we hunt has never been caged and tamed. Yet we can’t stop hunting it. That’s just how we’re made; that’s just our human nature. We are hunters.
We all experience some mixture of happiness and unhappiness. No one is totally happy or totally unhappy. But some have more happiness, deeper and truer happiness, more lasting happiness, than others do.
Why? What makes the difference? Why are some people so very unsuccessful in this quest?
Obviously, because they do not use the right means, the right road, the right key to open this door.
So the first thing to do is to find the right road. And the second thing is to walk down that road. First, you get out the road map, then you follow it. But you can’t follow it if you don’t know it. A book like this can’t teach you to follow it, but a book can teach you to know it.
So what is the road to happiness? What brings us to happiness, or happiness to us? Different people give different answers to that question. That’s why it is so important to find out which answers are true and which answers are false: because we can make mistakes about this, and this is one of the most important questions we can ask, because happiness is the thing we all seek all the time.
2. Happiness is just a feeling, and different people feel differently about different things, so different things make different people happy. “Different strokes for different folks.” For some people, happiness is a warm puppy; for other people, it is extreme sports. How can there be one road map for everybody?
There is one mistake in that argument: happiness is not just a feeling.
Here are five things that show that happiness is not just a feeling.
a. Feelings come and go, but happiness–deep happiness–stays. Feelings are fleeting. They are like waves on the surface of the sea; happiness is like the solid calm at the bottom. Waves are great to surf on but impossible to build on or live in.
b. Happiness is the deepest thing in us. We long for it with all our heart, as our end or goal, not just a means. But feelings are not the very deepest thing in us. Feelings usually accompany happiness, like friends. Happiness-feelings are the friends of happiness, but not happiness itself.
We modern Americans are much more worried about our feelings than any other culture in history ever was. It might be a really liberating experience just to forget our feelings for a while, not because they are bad or worthless or unimportant but because there are so many things that are even more important.
c. Feelings are not in our control; they just happen. You can’t just command yourself to feel differently. But happiness does not just happen by luck or chance. (“Hap” is the old English word for “luck” or “chance”.) We can be in control of our happiness. You are probably shocked at that statement. But I will explain it in the next paragraph.
d. The reason why we can be in control of our happiness is that the most important cause of happiness is goodness. Good people are happy; evil people are not. And we are in control of our goodness. We are responsible for being a good person; we are free to choose between being good or evil. Therefore, we are in control of the most important part of our happiness or unhappiness, because we are in control of its most important cause, our own goodness or evil.
Of course there are other causes of our happiness or unhappiness that we are not in control of: the things that happen to us against our will. Terrible tragedies often strike good people. But even these will harm us much less if we are good and will harm us much more if we are bad. A large, clean, deep lake can take a lot of garbage without becoming polluted, but a small, dirty, shallow lake cannot.
e. Some things do in fact make us truly happy, and some do not. So we can be wrong about it, we can make mistakes about it, we can think something can make us happy when it can’t. So we are disappointed. (If that were not so, we would simply be happy all the time!)
But whatever we can be wrong about is objectively real, not just our own subjective feelings. Being wrong means that our subjective ideas fail to match the objective reality.
Therefore, happiness is not just our own subjective feelings.
So it’s crucial to find out what road really does lead to true happiness and what roads do not. So we will explore seven of the most common roads, seven of the most common answers to the question “What is the road to happiness?” The possible answers are: wealth, fame, respect, health, pleasure, power, and religion.
(When we say “religion” we mean real religion. Real religion is a real relationship with the real God, the God who is real. The real God is the God of Jesus Christ, and a real relationship is a relationship of trust and love.)
3. Why can’t money make you happy?
There are three reasons for thinking it can:
a. It’s the first thing everybody thinks of when they think of happiness. When you see somebody with a big smile on his face, the first thing you say is: “What happened to you? Did you just win the lottery?”
b. Money can buy a lot. In fact, it can buy everything money can buy.
c. We know from experience that we’re happier after we get the things we want than when we didn’t have them. That’s why we buy them! It’s a no-brainer.
a. Just because people think of money when they think of happiness, that doesn’t mean money really does buy happiness. People also say, “What good is money? It can’t buy happiness.” People contradict themselves. People are not infallible. People are not God.
b. Money can buy everything money can buy, but money cant buy any of the things that money can’t buy. It can buy material things, but it can’t buy spiritual things: peace, joy, love, beauty, friendship, trust, loyalty, honor, faith. And happiness! Above all, money can’t buy people. It can buy only people who sell themselves for money, like prostitutes, or who sell other people for money, like slave traders, or Judas Iscariot.
c. Money can indeed relieve many cares. Poverty is no fun. But that’s not enough. Anesthetics relieve pain too, but they’re not enough to cure the underlying disease. Money can take care of many of the surface pains in our life but not the deeper pain. The rich commit suicide much more frequently than the poor.
The reason money can’t make us happy is that it is only a means, but happiness is an end. Money is a “means of exchange”. A “means of exchange” is a means, not an end. Happiness is an end, not a means. Therefore, happiness is not the same as money.
4. Why can’t fame and glory make you happy? Everyone wants them. They make you more Godlike.
No, they don’t. Love makes you more Godlike. God’s Word does not say, “God is fame.” It says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).
Fame is fleeting. It’s a fashion, a fad.
And fame depends on others, not on you. Do you want your happiness to depend on how many other people know you?
Fame is often fake, often false. A clever advertiser can take a lamp post and make it famous. You can get famous just by doing something so stupid that you get into a tabloid like the National Enquirer. Or you can get famous by murdering someone and getting executed for it.
People who are famous are usually less happy, not more happy, than other people. They wish they could walk down the street without people recognizing them and bothering them. They have no privacy. They often feel as if they have no life except in other people’s eyes.
5. Why can’t power make you happy? Now that’s Godlike. “Almighty God–” power is almost His middle name. And what’s worse than losing power, losing control? It’s like being a slave.
Like money, power is felt more when we lose it than when we have it. No one enjoys being a slave or losing control. But just having power isn’t enough to bring happiness. Like money, power is better at taking away unhappiness than bringing happiness. (Power and money can be exchanged for each other–power can get you money, and money can get you power–so they share many of the same limitations.)
Like fame, power simply does not make people happy. We can observe that. For like rich people and famous people, powerful people do self-destructive things more often than ordinary people do.
Power alone is not Godlike, because God is not power alone; God is the power of goodness. Power is open to good or evil uses. Power cannot be our true good because it can sometimes be evil as well as good. How could good ever be evil?
Though power is not evil in itself, it can readily be used for evil. In fact, it tempts people to do evil. “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Dictators, who have the most power, are notoriously evil.
(The Pope is not a dictator; he is the “servant of the servants of God”–the God who became our servant, washed His disciples’ feet, and died for us. Dictators are like vampires: they take your life, your blood. The God whom the Pope serves is the opposite: He gave us His life, His Blood.)
Power is like money: it’s a means to an end, since it can be used for either good or evil ends. But happiness is our end. To identify happiness with power is to confuse the end with the means.
6. Happiness is being loved, then: being respected, being accepted, being honored.
No, because that too, like fame, comes from somebody else. It’s in his mind that you are honored. How can your own personal happiness be in someone else’s mind?
And you want to deserve the honor, don’t you? You want to be honored for what you really are. So it’s not the honor that makes you happy, but the thing you are honored for. Honor is like a grade in a course: it’s only a sign of something else. A high grade is a sign that you have a good knowledge of the course. It’s the knowledge that you need, not just the sign of it. A sign on a medicine bottle tells you only what’s inside. It’s not the label that heals you; it’s the medicine.
7. Why can’t a strong, healthy, beautiful body make you happy? That’s not in somebody else’s mind–that’s in you.
We’re getting closer. At least your body is you and not something external to you, like honor or fame or wealth. But health is still only in your body, not in your soul. If you have a healthy body, but you don’t know it and feel it and enjoy it, it doesn’t make you happy. The knowledge that you are healthy in your body, and the feeling of enjoying your bodily health, both exist in your soul, in your mind and feelings, not in the atoms of your body.
Your body is not your personality, not your very self. That’s why you call it “your” body: you possess it. There’s a “you” that possesses it. And that “you” is where happiness is. We have to climb further inside.
Here is a clue from the animal kingdom that shows that happiness is not first of all in your body. Humans can be much happier (and also much unhappier) than animals. Animals can only be contented (or discontented). But although we are greater than any animal in our capacity for happiness, some animal is always greater than we are in every bodily perfection. For instance, elephants are bigger, turtles live longer, lions are stronger, eagles are faster, hawks have better eyesight, dogs have better smell, sharks can eat everything, and cockroaches are almost indestructible.
And your body is not going to stay strong and healthy and beautiful forever. It’s going to become weak and sick and ugly. It’s going to become a corpse. Is your happiness going to be buried in a cemetery?
8. Why can’t enjoyment and pleasure make you happy? That’s in you, not in other people, and it’s in the soul, not just the body, and we seek it as an end, not just as a means. So it’s like happiness in all three of those ways.
Yes, and now we’re getting closer, more inside. Pleasure is felt in the soul. But it comes through the body. It’s dependent on material things, things in the outside world. It depends on good luck, on things we can’t control.
Bodily pleasures go the way of the body: into the grave.
Even before that, pleasures are fleeting. Pleasures don’t last. But happiness does.
Also, some pleasures are false. We regret them; we are sorry afterwards. That is never true of happiness.
And pleasure can get boring. True happiness does not.
Pleasure is incomplete. When we have pleasure, we still don’t necessarily have other good things, like wisdom and courage and peace and love. But perfect happiness is complete. So perfect happiness is not just pleasure.
So even though pleasure is close to happiness, or perhaps even an ingredient in it, it’s not the whole of it. When we are happy, we are also pleased, but being pleased (pleasure) is not quite identical with happiness. Pleasure is to happiness what the scent of a flower is to the flower. It’s an effect of happiness, a consequence of happiness. When you have real happiness, you feel pleased. The feeling comes from the reality. But we have not yet found the reality.
9. Then maybe nothing in the world can make us happy. Maybe the whole world can’t make us wholly happy.
That is true! And that is real progress toward finding an answer. For it tells us where the answer has to be by telling us where it isn’t. If this world is not enough to make us totally happy, then only something outside the world can do that. And that doesn’t mean just something outside this planet but something outside this universe. And there is only one thing outside this universe: the Creator of the universe, God.
“You have made us for Yourself, and [therefore] our hearts are restless till they rest in You”, Saint Augustine said to God. This restlessness is a very good thing. It moves us along, moves us to our true home. Our unhappiness is a prod down the road to God. If we were content, we would be like horses that lie down along the side of the road and chew the grass instead of moving on, moving home.
10. What can make me happy?
Only God, only the real presence inside you of the real God, known or unknown. Only the One who made you for Himself can satisfy your restless heart. Nothing else is big enough. Trying to fill that deepest longing inside you with the things of this world is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles.
Nothing less than yourself fulfills yourself. And the whole world is less than yourself. That’s why Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mk 8:36).
There is only one thing that is greater than the human self: God. Nothing less can make us fully happy. And whenever we are happy, it is only because God is giving a little of Himself to us through the things He created, especially other people and their love.
We are made that way. He created us to be restless until we rest in Him. He designed us that way, and we cannot change that design.
But how can we get Him? We can get things less than ourselves, but how do we “get” God?
The bad news is that we can’t get God. We can only get, and control, and have power over, things less than ourselves. But now comes the good news. He has done the work. He has “gotten” us. We can’t climb up to Heaven to “get” Him, but He came dawn to earth to “get” us.
So what do we have to do now to get plugged into God and happiness?
Here’s the best part of the good news. The answer is unbelievably simple: Just ask. Just believe. Just say yes. He wants to give Himself freely to our souls. (That’s what love does: it gives itself.) We only have to accept that gift. (That’s true of human love too!)
And when you do that, when you say yes to God, when you let God make love to your soul, then your soul will get pregnant with God’s love, and that love will naturally flow out into love for your neighbors. And that will make you happy because love alone can free you from the shell of your ego.
We can’t do this on our own. We are too weak and too selfish. But God wants to do it in us, and He will do it when we let Him. He will give us the power to forget ourselves and just love Him and His children. (He will usually do this gradually, subtly, gently, and freely, like the turning of the tide or the coming of the morning.) And in making other people happy, we will find that we are happier than we have ever been before. For we are then sharing the very life of God.
PS. Nearly all the arguments in this chapter I got from St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. St. Thomas, in turn, got many of them from previous philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Boethius.
Written by Dr Peter Kreeft Ph.D




4 responses

19 06 2019
20 09 2017

It helped in my period 4 erwc debate against does money buy happiness no side 😊

12 06 2013
Homing bird

Exceptional post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Thanks!

12 06 2013

Thank you Homing bird, I will be writing more on this subject soon. Stay tuned.

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