Last week in my Rhetoric of Consumer Culture class, I stumbled across a NY Times article from the late 1990s about the connection between money and happiness. My position on the subject has always been: give me money and I will get back to you with my findings. However, after reading this article, I’m starting to believe money really can’t buy happiness.
The article “Money Can’t Buy Happiness. Er, Can It?” was published in The New York Times by Paul Krugman on June 1, 1999. Below is a summary of the article.
The author, Paul Krugman, is an early adopter who falls into the targeted market for The New York Times. He is an educated, middle class American, and is financially stable who is also an economics professor at MIT and aware of popular trends among groups and the problems they encounter. Krugman’s article captures the period of economic expansion and growth under President Bill Clinton. During this time frame, United States citizens succumbed to a flourishing economy by partaking in “retail therapy” and splurging. Krugman does a great job of detailing consumer behavior in the late 1990s.
In Krugman’s article, he seeks to explain why money cannot buy happiness. One of the first subtle examples he provides is how both him and his wife purchased cell phones, but “had a few questions…couldn’t get answered.” The example immediately following the cell phone problem involves his parents and how they could not get a carpenter and plumber to do small work on their house. According to Krugman, as one ventures into middle-class American life, they begin to experience “the annoyances of prosperity” as demonstrated by his real-life scenarios.
Krugman believes having one car is ideal, opposed to two because “a lot of time is spent in traffic jams.” This leads to him stating, “you really can’t buy happiness, certainly not for society as a whole.” Additionally, he says “human beings are hard-wired to judge themselves not by their absolute standard of living, but in comparison to others”, which ties back to his mentioning of Robert Frank’s luxury fever where “families with annual incomes of $30,000 try to emulate the consumption of those with $60,000” and so on.
Through detailed facts, statistical evidence, and personal experiences, Paul Krugman argues that money does not buy happiness, but instead hinders satisfaction and gratification due to problems that can only be experienced by those with increased levels of income.
How do you feel now about money in its relationship to happiness?
Source: Krugman, Paul. “Money Can’t Buy Happiness. Er, Can It?”. The New York Times (1999). Web. 26 January 2012. Retrieved from:<http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/01/opinion/money-can-t-buy-happiness-er-can-it.html?ref=paulkrugman&pagewanted=print>