Many of us fantasize about having vast sums of wealth. Thoughts of winning the lottery are a prime example. We have all dreamed about spending that multi-million dollar jackpot, believing that such a prize would be transformational, providing us with mansions, cars and boats and a means to attain genuine and lasting happiness.
Materialistic happiness is a popular philosophy and Dan Price has become a recent convert to that theory.
Price read an article about “happiness” claiming that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives. Price was moved by the idea and immediately decided to put that theory into practice.
Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, surprised his staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000. He planned to increase the salaries of his 70 employees, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries. The average salary at Gravity is $48,000 per year. Price, who founded the Seattle-based credit-card payment-processing firm in 2004, vowed to cut his own salary of nearly $1 million to $70,000.
There continues to be a large void between the rich and poor, more in evidence in poorer countries but an issue that American politicians have been driving home for a long time. The Middle Class is shrinking and the disparity between rich and poor is growing larger. The attainment of happiness is ultimately a discussion about class and this needs to be the leading edge of the conversation. Those suffering the effects of poverty are unable to experience materialistic pleasures that appear to make so many others happy.
While Dan Price’s fortunate few believe $70,000 to be the Holy Grail, others hope for a modest salary increase of $15 per hour?
Recently, lawmakers in California voted to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour for large businesses in 2022, while New York officials negotiated to bring the $15-an-hour minimum to New York City by 2019 and the rest of the state in subsequent years.
Not everyone believes that this will be a good thing. Interviewed by the Washington Times, Donald Boudreaux, professor of economics at George Mason University, said virtually no economists deny that raising the cost of labor makes labor less attractive to employers. Boudreaux said the laws will hurt the very people they purport to protect: society’s least advantaged.
“A particularly pernicious effect of the minimum wage is that the worst consequences, the people who are most likely to be harmed by it, are the people who can least afford to be harmed by it,” Mr. Boudreaux said. “Not just teenagers, not just unskilled workers, but the least advantaged teenagers, who went to bad schools, who are from broken homes, so they don’t have any social connections at all, or the single mom without transportation of her own, those are the workers who are least likely to be employed under the minimum wage.”
Attempts to secure financial equality and class warfare have become political themes debated by both Republicans and Democrats. During the current presidential campaign, candidates are increasingly discussing the shrinking middle class, lack of manufacturing jobs and wage stagnation. The mood of the electorate appears to be one of frustration and anger, in large measure shaping the tone of the election.
Price’s Gravity Experiment speaks to the disparity between the salaries of chief executives and their employees. The United States has one of the world’s largest pay gaps, with chief executives earning nearly 300 times what the average worker makes, according to some economists’ estimates.
Still, that corporate excess does not always equate to a better life and, in numerous instances, has proved to be a detriment.
In his article “The Madness of Materialism,” Steve Taylor explains that material goods and wealth do not lead to happiness. Taylor writes, “Study after study by psychologists has shown that there is no correlation between wealth and happiness. The only exception is in cases of real poverty, when extra income does relieve suffering and brings security. But once our basic material needs are satisfied, our level of income makes little difference to our level of happiness.”
Taylor argues further that extreme wealth may be more problematic than most realize. He says, “Research has shown, for example, that extremely rich people such as billionaires are not significantly happier than people with an average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression.”
If happiness can be relegated to a numerical equation, then Jeff Hayden may have discovered that proverbial magic number. Hayden has concluded that, combined with altruism, the number is 100. Hayden says, “One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.”
Max Lucado has also calculated a number, although smaller than the aforementioned one. In his “Today I Will Make a Difference,” Lucado suggests, “I will spend time with those I love – My spouse, my children, my family. A man can own the world but be poor for the lack of love. A man can own nothing and yet be wealthy in relationships. Today I will spend at least five minutes with the significant people in my world. I will spend five quality minutes talking or hugging or thanking or listening; five undiluted minutes with my mate, children, and friends. Today I will make a difference.”
So what is it? $70,000 annually? $15.00 per hour? 100 hours per year? Five minutes a day?
Not everyone agrees with those mathematical equations and not everyone believes that materialism is the answer. As Steve Taylor has suggested, philosophers, poets, and scientists all agree that happiness can’t be attained through money, prestige, or power. The good news is that we already have the currency needed to be happy. It’s inside us just waiting to be discovered. Happiness is more about discovering who you are and finding what you really want to do. That truth, once realized, is priceless.
Maxim W. Furek, MA, CADC, ICADC is passionately researching aspects of happiness. His rich background includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music explores the miracle and optimism that saved the lives of two entombed Pennsylvania miners. Learn more at shepptonmyth.com