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Tom Purcell: ​Fishing for Money and the Pursuit of Happiness

Money does make us happy, so long as we spend it right.

According to the U.K. newspaper The Independent, “New research from the University of British Columbia has found that spending money to buy free time, such as paying others to cook or clean for you, does improve happiness, leave you feeling less stressed and generally more satisfied with life.”

Beyond that, however, money does NOT necessarily make us happier.

According to Time magazine, Harvard University psychology professor Dan Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness, says that money has its limitations.

“Once you get basic human needs met, a lot more money doesn’t make a lot more happiness,” he says.

Research shows, Time reports, that “going from earning less than $20,000 a year to making more than $50,000 makes you twice as likely to be happy, yet the payoff for then surpassing $90,000 is slight.”

In other words, once you have enough money to pay your bills and enjoy going out to dinner now and then, additional increases in wealth do not necessarily correspond with greater happiness.

Where happiness is concerned, Americans are conflicted people. On one hand, we want wealth and fame. We want people to bow down to us when we walk into a public place. We want adulation and expensive cars and big houses staffed by a dozen servants.

We believe in our bones that more money will make us happy and we work like crazy to acquire it.

But on the other hand, we know wealth and fame are bogus. You never know who your friends really are. You’re surrounded by people looking for a handout. And if you ever do anything stupid, the newspapers will find out about it and your stupidity will be broadcast around the world.

Where happiness is concerned, I defer to the great singer-philosopher Kenny Rogers. A few years ago, he tweeted: “You need three things in your life to be happy: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.”

We all know this. But we keep forgetting it.

We know that the happiest moments in our own lives involve friends and family. These are the people who affect the deeper part of our nature, our spirits and souls, where true happiness resides. These are the people who can make us laugh so hard our guts hurt or help us when we’re down or engage us in deeply satisfying conversations.

There’s a story about a fisherman sitting on the beach with his wife one afternoon and enjoying the surf. The fisherman had enjoyed a big catch that morning, so he came in for the day. A rich businessman approached him.

“Why didn’t you keep fishing and bring in twice as many fish?” the businessman asked.

“Why?” the fisherman replied.

“Because then you could have bigger profits. Then you could buy another boat and hire employees.”

“Why?” said the fisherman.

“Then you could keep growing and have more profit. You could buy more boats and hire more employees.”

“Why?” said the fisherman.

“Because then you could work long and hard for many years and grow rich.”

“Why?” said the fisherman.

“Because then you and your wife could retire and relax on the beach,” said the businessman.

“But that’s what I’m doing now.”

We know the fisherman is right.

Why, then, do we spend most of our waking hours not nurturing our friends and families but chasing success and money and bigger houses, while we let the happiness that is right under our noses elude us?

Tom Purcell, author of Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood and Wicked Is the Whiskey: A Sean McClanahan Mystery, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist, syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @PurcellTom. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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