Money, Happiness, and Worth
What do we value?
“Money is human happiness in the abstract.” — Arthur Schopenhauer, 1851
Money is one of those topics that traditionally hasn’t been discussed in polite society. People who don’t have enough of it may be embarrassed or anxious, and people who do have enough of it may not give it a second thought. But it’s on all of our minds.
Not necessarily in an obsessive way, but certainly in a practical way.
Money defines how we live: the circumstances, possessions, and even people with which we surround ourselves. Like it or not, it also determines how we’re judged. Our classist tendencies still tend to force rank strata of society based on wealth, or lack of it.
And, all too often, money is at the core of how we define our happiness. Too little, and we spend too much time worrying about the next paycheck or even the next meal. Too much, and like King Midas, we find ourselves become a slave to our wealth.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness,” and to a large extent, it rings true (although I recall seeing a sandwich board outside of a shop, on which was written in chalk: “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy ice cream, which is pretty much the same thing.”).
The sentiment there should make us think: what do we place value on? What truly matters in our life?
“I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my wishes.” — Edward Gibbon, 1776
J. Pierpont Morgan was an extraordinarily wealthy man (although Carnegie and Rockefeller didn't consider him so). He owned yachts, belonged to dozens of clubs, and amassed an art and manuscript collection that was the basis of a museum. And yet, he carried on numerous affairs over the course of his married life and was bombastic and irascible to colleagues. Was he happy? One has to wonder.
The playwright Henrik Ibsen, a contemporary of Morgan’s, summed up the function and limitations of money perfectly:
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