Story by Luc Pham.
COLUMBIA — Does money buy happiness?
That’s one of the questions considered by a $5.1 million-study underway at Saint Louis University. Philosophy professor Dan Haybron, the lead researcher, said he hopes to convene experts on well-being from professions such as science, theology and psychology to learn as much as possible about human happiness, including how money factors in.
But research already has shown the weak relation between money and happiness.
“People with more money, for the most part, tend to be happier than people with less money,” he said. “We see a lot of evidence that there are a lot of people who manage to be pretty happy even though they don’t have a lot of money.”
As long as a person’s basic needs are met, and they are living comfortably, money doesn’t matter as much, Haybron said.
“One thing that’s really important is your attitude towards your life, how you deal with problems,” he said. “The biggest thing is how you live: what’s your daily routine like, what’s your lifestyle like. I think it’s more how you spend your time, what you do with your life.”
Justin Meyer, 32, a business consultant, said money is not often in the forefront of his mind.
“I don’t need a lot of money in the bank to make me happy,” he said. “Things that make me happy don’t come from money.”
What does? “Family and friends and being in the woods,” he said.”I don’t worry about money because I planned well, and I’m the cheapest person you’ll ever meet.”
Lacey Prater, 31, a social worker, also values family and friends above money.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who have a lot of money who aren’t necessarily happy, and I’ve met people who don’t have any who are very happy,” she said.
In studies reported by Science magazine in 2008, psychological experiments concluded that people who gave money away experienced more happiness than those who spent money on themselves.
“My charitable giving has always related to something that I do, people I work with,” said Prater. “I can see an impact on where the money is going.”
Charity is of great importance to Tarun Shukla, 33, a journalist. He said he feels an obligation to help out the less fortunate.
“If I call myself middle-class,” he said, “I should do enough in some small way to help those below. And the same should apply to those above me.”
“The feeling of helping someone out makes you happy,” he said.
Shukla said that you eventually reach a point where you have to draw the line and ask yourself how much money is enough.
“Over the decades society has come to organize itself unequally, with a distinct rich class, middle class and poor people stationed at the very bottom,” Shukla said. “If you’re living in a society where to live you need money, you can’t be happy. If somebody takes care of my basic living and health, I will be happy without money.”
“It buys you the simple joys of life,” he said. “If you chase money all your life, you will not be happy.”
Kim Goldenberg, 45, a homemaker, physical therapist and mother of three, said: “Money is not essential to happiness. Happiness can come from children, family and friends you love.”
But while money may not be essential to her happiness, she sees the necessity of it.
“I think if I was less fortunate, life would be more complicated,” she said. “But as long as I had my health, and my family had their health, I’d be happy.”
“Money makes life easier,” she said. “It enabled me to stay home and raise my kids. I was so fortunate to have the choice to stay home with my children when they were younger.”
But charitable giving also is extremely important to Goldenberg.
“I feel very blessed with the life I’ve been given, so I feel like it’s important to give back,” she said.
Robert Nickels, 57, who described himself as homeless, said he could be happy even without any money.
“Happiness comes from the heart, and money comes from the wallet,” said Nickels. “Happiness comes from making a person smile, and money comes from greed. Would I be happy with no money? Yes. Could I survive with no money? No.”
He doesn’t need much to get through the day.
“I could live (happily) on $50 dollars a day,” Nickels said, giving him money to eat, drink and the rest “to tease the girls.”
To Nickels, money is not vital to living in America.
“Survival is not a matter of money,” he said. “It’s a matter of wits.”
Nor does he hesitate to ask others for help.
“A closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” he said.