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PURETICS...

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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Money Can Buy Happiness?

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but success does.Capitalism, moored in values of hard work, honesty, and fairness, is key.

On July 23, 2000, a forty-two-year-old forklift operator in Corbin, Kentucky, named Mack Metcalf was working a 12-hour nightshift. On his last break, he halfheartedly checked the Sunday paper for the winning Kentucky lottery numbers. He didn’t expect to be a winner, of course—but hey, you never know.

Mack Metcalf’s ticket, it turned out, was the winner of the $65 million Powerball jackpot, and it changed his life forever. What did he do first? He quit his job. “I clocked out right then, and I haven’t been back,” he later recounted. In fact, his first impulse was to quit everything, after a life characterized by problem drinking, dysfunctional family life, and poorly paid work. “I’m moving to Australia. I’m going to totally get away. I’m going to buy several houses there, including one on the beach,” he told Kentucky lottery officials.

Metcalf never worked again. But he never moved to Australia. Instead he bought a 43-acre estate with an ostentatious, plantation-style home in southern Kentucky for more than $1 million. There, he spent his days pursuing pastimes like collecting expensive cars and exotic pets, including tarantulas and snakes.

Trouble started for Metcalf as soon as he won the lottery. Seeing him on television, a social worker recognized him as delinquent for child support from a past marriage, resulting in a settlement that cost him half a million dollars. A former girlfriend bilked him out of another half million while he was drunk. He fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism and became paranoid that those around him wanted to kill him. Racked with cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis, he died in December 2003 at the age of forty-five, only about three years after his lottery dream had finally come true. His tombstone reads, “Loving father and brother, finally at rest.”

Did millions of dollars bring enduring happiness to Mack Metcalf? Obviously not. On the contrary, those who knew him blame the money for his demise. “If he hadn’t won,” Metcalf’s former wife told a New York Times reporter, “he would have worked like regular people and maybe had 20 years left. But when you put that kind of money in the hands of somebody with problems, it just helps them kill themselves.”

So what’s the moral of the story? Is money destined to make us miserable? Of course not. Mack Metcalf’s sad case is surely an aberration. If you hit the lottery, it would be different. You would give philanthropically and do all kinds of fulfilling things. Similarly, if your career suddenly took off in a fantastic way and you earned a great deal of money, you would get much happier. And what is true for the parts must also be true for the whole: When America experiences high rates of economic growth, it gets happier. America is not a nation of Mack Metcalfs, and money is a smart first strategy for attaining a higher gross national happiness.

Right?

You’ve heard the axiom a thousand times: Money doesn’t buy happiness. Your parents told you this, and so did your priest. Still, if you’re like me, you would just as soon see for yourself if money buys happiness. People throughout history have insisted on striving to get ahead in spite of the well-worn axiom. America as a nation has struggled and striven all the way to the top of the world economic pyramid. Are we suffering from some sort of collective delusion, or is it possible that money truly does buy at least a certain amount of happiness?

Americans have on average gotten much richer over the past several decades than they were in previous generations. The inconvenient truth, however, is that there has been no meaningful rise in the average level of happiness.

In 1972, 30 percent of Americans said they were very happy, and the average American enjoyed about $25,000 (in today’s dollars) of our national income. By 2004, the percentage of very happy Americans stayed virtually unchanged at 31 percent, while the share of national income skyrocketed to $38,000 (a 50 percent real increase in average income).

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