Through discussion on what actually brings happiness, some themes like money, relationships and health are usually highlighted. How are those themes related? Does hoarding money really bring happiness? What are the basics of happiness? According to research, it basically comes down to two main things: your own body, and your relationships with other people.
Within psychology and economic studies, Dolan et al. (2008) correlates the term happiness as equivalent to Subjective Well-Being (SWB), a term often used by researchers to say how individuals think and feel about their lives.
An interesting characteristic of SWB is that it is not just an emotional response, but also a physical reaction in our bodies. So, how does our body “understand” happiness? Health studies associate subjective well-being with “the release of endorphins or ‘happiness hormones’”. That is to say, when our body releases endorphins, our brain interprets it as a feeling of pleasure, or “happiness’.
A possible question that comes to our minds based on this physical concept of happiness is whether it can be taken from us. Can we actually lose this happiness? According to medicine studies, the lack of those “happiness hormones” can prevent humans from their physical well-being. The outcome is no secret: depression, anxiety, obesity and other illnesses. In fact, it has become more and more common the incidence of those illnesses in contemporary societies. That happens especially because of unbridled search for money through work, promoted by capitalism.
Notably, money was associated with the increase of SWB, but not in the way you are possibly thinking. In 2006, researchers at the US’s National Institute of Health argued that charitable giving can trigger those “happiness hormones”, event they refer as “helper’s high”. Therefore, an interpersonal relationship as donating money or giving others our property gives us back happiness. In other words, giving money opportune physical happiness, a reaction not known (neither encouraged!) in western capitalist societies.
Some could argue that even though happiness can be taken from us due to overwork, it can be recovered by earning the deserved money. Is that really practicable? Let’s suppose someone could actually receive one's desired money after working beyond endure. Even so, there would be no time for social experiences and health care. Literally, one would not have time to enjoy one's money. A study conducted by Richard Layard entitled the Origins of Happiness analyzed data from 200,000 people across four countries and concluded that people have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite average incomes more than doubling.
As can be seen, having money does not bring happiness, but relationships and health do. That is also a conclusion from a landmark study conducted by the London School of Economics (LSE). It says that “Most human misery can be blamed on failed relationships and physical and mental illness rather than money problems and poverty”. Still, how does relationships and mental health relate to happiness? As Boven (2005) argues, “[...] experiences (or feelings related to relationships) are more open to favorable abstract constructs than material possessions.”. Paraphrasing, experiences are more likely to relate to our conceptual idea of happiness. Also, this differs from feeling on material things that, according to Boven (2005), “ [...] fail to provide enduring pleasure”.
Despite all previous discussion, could money bring any happiness and personal satisfaction? Research through different countries, as UK, Australia and Germany, shows no statistically significant correlation. Even with major increases in living standards (as average income and education), the average happiness has failed to rise since the beginning of the study. Although there is some research concerning the increase of happiness related to money, as Justin Wolfers’ study or Daniel Kahneman’ study, it is proved that “[...] additional income may not increase well-being if those in the relevant comparison group also gain a similar increase in income”, as states Dolan et al. (2008). Thus, in this scenario, well-being is still an issue related to social links and relationships, and not an association one-to-one with money itself. The basics continue to be the essential cause in human happiness as far as our body and our relationships are concerned.