The important point here is that ''happiness'' is too vague and baggy a notion to be truly helpful. It is like an old pair of knickers that has lost its elastic and become over-capacious and shapeless.
Instead of talking about happiness, one should talk about satisfaction, achievement, interest, engagement, enjoyment, growth and the constant opening of fresh possibilities.
Very often the activities that yield these things are challenging, even effortful. A person in the midst of doing something objectively worthwhile might not describe himself as happy - usually he will be too absorbed to notice - and only later will realise that what it is to be happy is to be absorbed in something worthwhile.
If mere happiness were the point, we could easily achieve it for everyone by suitably medicating the water supply. But it has often been well said that the surest way to unhappiness is to seek happiness directly. Instead, happiness comes as a sideline of other endeavours that in themselves bring satisfaction and a sense of achievement.
It is like the dot of light in a dark room that one cannot see when looking directly at it, but notices out of the corner of one's eye on looking away.
The other confusion concerns wealth. If a person has a million pounds in the bank and never touches a penny of it, or a huge mansion and never occupies it, it is the same as if he had neither the money nor the house. What this shows is that wealth is not so much what one has, but what one does with it.
A man who has a thousand pounds and spends it on a wonderful trip to the Galapagos Islands is a rich man indeed: the experiences, the things learnt, the differences wrought in him by both, are true wealth.
If you would like to know how rich a person is, you need to ask not how much money he has, but how much he has spent.
This idea is associated with the wise teaching that the philosophers and poets of antiquity never tired of repeating: that a rich person is he who has enough.
If his needs are modest and his habits frugal, then so long as his resources provide enough to meet both, he is rich.
But the man is poor who, despite owning millions, restlessly yearns for more because he feels he cannot have enough, and in particular who lacks the things money cannot buy - ah yes, for these unpurchasable treasures can never be left out of the picture: friendship, love, a sound digestion and a reliable, natural ability to sleep at nights, are indispensable to the possibility of happiness, if not directly supplying it.
In thinking about happiness and wealth, one should avoid using the words ''happiness' and ''wealth'', and think instead of more accurate and more substantial words that denote what one truly thinks these things are.
To mention satisfaction and achievement is to suggest activity of some kind - doing and making, helping, learning, changing - which might seem obvious to most, but is chosen by surprisingly few.
Ruskin tellingly remarked ''a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel'', and this, alas, characterises too many people. The limited surface area of such parcels does not attract much of the golden dust of satisfaction.
The true equation between happiness and wealth is this: that happiness is wealth. Unlike wealth in the form of money and possessions, such happiness can never be quantified, only felt; and if one has it, it does not matter if the level of it always stays the same.
- A C Grayling is professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London
There is a lot of research to suggest that richer people are more satisfied with their lives than poorer people, at least up to a certain point when their most important needs are met. But life satisfaction is different from happiness, which is less how we feel generally about how lives and more how we feel emotionally at any moment. And, interestingly, income may not have as much bearing on that at all. Money, it seems, can’t buy everything.
In fact, new research shows that richer and poorer people are generally as happy as each other. Where they differ is in their level of sadness: higher-income individuals are markedly less sad on a daily basis.
“Using the most sophisticated measures of emotional well-being in a large-scale survey of the American population, we found that wealthier individuals reported less sadness but no more happiness during their daily activities,” says the study, which is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The results are based on a survey of a cross-section of Americans–12,291 people in all. Participants rated their happiness or sadness for three random activities that day (0 = not at all; 6 = very). The sample was carved into 16 income groups to compare the importance of wealth.
The relationship between income and sadness is as strong as the relationship of income to life satisfaction, the study says. To put that into context, lead author Kostadin Kushlev, a PhD Candidate at the University of British Columbia, compares it to the effect of someone taking an aspirin to prevent a second heart attack. In 20,000 individuals, it would prevent 50 to 100 deaths.
But why would someone richer feel less sadness? The study puts it down to a greater ability to deal with setbacks. A richer person coming home to a leak in their roof, say, might treat the problem as an annoyance–something they need to call someone about. A poorer person who can’t fix it immediately would know they’d have to deal with dripping for months. “The greater difficulty in dealing with such misfortunes may make poor people feel a lack of control over the vicissitudes of life, with greater consequences for sadness than for happiness,” the study says.
It could be that rich people also aren’t good at being happy. Other research shows wealthy folk don’t necessarily savor life’s pleasures–one key to happiness. “Income affords a lot of benefits that increase happiness, so finding that there is no effect means that income might also act to decrease the happiness people derive from daily activities,” Kushlev says.