10 February 2013

Buying Happiness

We've always said that money doesn't buy happiness but according to today's NYT here it might. There's more to it than my summary indicates but studies since the early 2000's show some correlation between increasing wealth and subjective happiness. But an interesting quote: "The U.S. is nearly three times as rich today as it was in 1973, when Easterlin [who first looked into the correlation] was collecting his data. According to nearly every survey, though, Americans are not at all happier than we were back then." Why, you ask?

You can read about several factors that might account for this American phenomenon in the article but I'd like to suggest another: American individualism. "It is not good for man to be alone" is not only God's observation about Adam sans Eve but true of humanity generally. Beginning in the decade before Easterlin began his research we saw the 60's social revolution a big part of which was the incessant promotion of sexual "liberation." "Liberating" sex from marriage weakens the bonds between husbands and wives and between parents and children. No amount of money can pay for the emotional and social losses occasioned by casual and consecutive sexual liaisons. Free sex, the mantra of the Left.

On the Right we have seen in increasing effort to define human nature in terms of acquisitive materialism. Capitalism without limits with no more thought about a common good than the libertines on the Left. Increasingly commoditization of social life makes for lots of unhappy rich folks.

Might the Christian Church provide a counterweight to a culture of desperate sexual autonomy on the one hand and depressing material maximization on the other? After all, didn't Jesus say, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Some earlier thoughts about the Church's shortcomings here but more to today's point we see the Mainstream Left of the American church capitulating to the sexual mores of the aging Sixties radicals and the Evangelical Right aping Randian individualistic capitalism (related earlier thoughts here).

Something not so much "in-between" but oriented to the good is in order. Human beings are not so much pushed by their animal needs (food, drink, shelter, etc.) but pulled by their imagined hopes. And, as I observed here, the hoped-for world to which we bend the efforts of this life are formed by the liturgies of the world in which we live. Unless the good toward which we strive is made of something more substantial than sex and money, it's no wonder that increases in each (or both, for that matter) don't make Americans happy.

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