Apparently Money Does Buy Happiness–At Least $75,000 Worth

Don’t miss Janey Osterland’s post at WiseBread highlighting the recent Princeton University Center of Wellbeing Study reporting that “increasing one’s income up to about $75,000 per year lessens life’s stresses”.

Earn anything more than that and it’s all weeping and gnashing of teeth, the study adds.

Well, OK, they don’t quite conclude that. But they do discover statistically that wealth is not what it’s cracked up to be. The study’s authors pontificate as to why:

Perhaps $75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.

Or perhaps once one passes $75,000 one is completely sucked in by what Martin Luther called the “inward curvature of the soul”–the sinful bent that strengthens, not subsides, anytime one makes an effort to satisfy it. Janey provides links to several studies verifying the sad phenomenon we note periodically in this space, namely, that the more money one makes, the lower the percentage one gives away.

John Wesley once offhanded that the reason why rich people become less and less generous is that they see actual poor people less and less often. Perhaps once one reaches $75,000, the only people one sees on a regular basis are people who don’t really need much help.  And maybe that reinforces the mistaken belief that the money is really much more needed in the bank account of the person who earned it.

I was writing the chapter in my book this week on Ransoming the Captive and describing how in the first eighteen centuries of church history it was a regular occurrence for free Christians to offer to take the place of slaves and prisoners as a means of securing freedom for the captive. I wrote about Oscar Schindler’s ransoming of Jews in World War II, and Maximilian Kolbe’s volunteering to go to the gas chamber to spare another concentration camp prisoner he hardly knew. It made me think how much generosity is related to the sights and smells and touches of direct contact and, thus, to love. So this is what I wrote:

It is a customary and not an odd thing to ransom a captive who is one’s own blood. The miracle is not in the act of ransoming a loved one but rather in coming to love the one who is not one’s own blood in the first place. This is the gift one receives through the habitual practice of the Works of Mercy.

Perhaps what happens is that making more than $75,000 a year requires such an expenditure of hours at work that we run out of time for anything more than ourselves and our family. We leave off the habitual practice of the Works of Mercy (i.e., sharing our bread, opening our homes, healing and comforting others) and thus the only needs that are directly and palpably real to us are our own.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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4 Responses to Apparently Money Does Buy Happiness–At Least $75,000 Worth

  1. John Lee says:

    A constant challenge for someone in suburban North America is distinguishing a “want” from a “need”. Living in affluence definitely has its effects. May God help us make decisions so that the effects are positive. May God help us to know the sacrifices that we need to make.

  2. Roy says:

    Eric, I regularly hear/read that the wealthy do not give as high of a percentage of their wealth as others. As you rightly point out, there are probably many reasons for this. Let me add one to the list.

    In my vocation as the owner of my own business, capital is a tool. I make money with money. Metaphorically speaking, asking me for a donation is like asking a mechanic to give away his car lift. I can continue to work without it, but it’s less productive and creates stress.

    The spiritual challenge is obvious; when is God prompting me to give anyway, and when is it foolish to do so because it harms my ability to create even more wealth that can be given away? I ask this rhetorically, since nobody can answer it but me. It’s a question that I live with, regularly, as I contemplate what, where and when to give. Striking the right balance takes thought, prayer, and faith.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that this is an excuse for the rich to give a lower percentage. But there are times when giving is exactly the wrong thing for me to do. In fact, I’d argue that the lesson God has taught me in the last decade or so (I’m 51) is that generosity can be overdone. So I submit this as one minor reason why the wealthy might decline, at times, to give.

  3. EFoley says:

    Always good to hear from you, Roy–I will look forward to hearing how your answer to your rhetorical question continues to develop!

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