By Bob Kenny
Copyright © 2004 by More Than Money. All rights reserved.
Robert A. Kenny, Ed.D., is the executive director of More
What kind of world will our children and grandchildren
live in? What will they need in order to be successful in
their pursuit of happiness? As a parent, I ask myself these
questions -a lot. About 75 years ago, the economist
John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay entitled, "The
Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren."1 In
it, he predicted that "the economic problem [of scarcity]
may be solved, or at least within sight of solution, within
a hundred years." He went on to suggest that by the
end of a century's time, we would be experiencing
"the greatest change which has ever occurred in the
material environment of life for human beings in the aggregate."
When that time arrived, Keynes postulated, it would be "reasonable
to be economically purposive for others."
The United States is fast approaching that
time of great change to which Keynes referred. Our material
environment has changed drastically over the past 75 years.
We live in an immensely wealthy country. We know it, the
world knows it, and our children and grandchildren are about
to know it. That's quite an achievement, but when
it comes to happiness, it might be an empty accomplishment.
Plain and simple, we are not, as a culture,
happier. "Our becoming much better off [financially]
over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one
iota of increased subjective well-being [happiness],"
notes Hope College psychologist David G. Myers.2 "Compared
with their grandparents, today's young adults have
grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness,
and much greater risk of depression and assorted social
We are the wealthiest society in the history
of the world, and yet the data indicate that it is harder,
not easier, to find happiness and meaning in our daily lives.
When our material needs are met, why don't we feel
Asking the Right Questions
I think the low levels of happiness in our society may be
due to the fact that we are asking old questions-questions
appropriate for earlier times, but not for now. Aren't
we still concentrating on economic and social questions
that were developed 100 years ago? Questions like How do
we make sure we have enough? How do we get more and keep
more? How do we stay competitive? The economic questions
of a century ago may have served a good purpose in their
time, but those same questions -and their answers-might
not serve our children and grandchildren very well in their
pursuit of happiness.
Research Findings on Subjective Well-Being (a.k.a.
Once basic needs are met, increases
in either national economic growth or personal income
have little effect on changes in personal happiness
levels of individuals.1
People who report that goals
of money, image, and popularity are relatively important
to them report lower levels of Subjective Well-Being.
Across nations, placing a higher importance on money
is associated with lower feelings of well-being.2
It appears that placing high
value on money has a negative effect on Subjective
Well-Being if it stems from a desire to gain power
or flaunt wealth, but not if it arises from a desire
for freedom or family security.3
"If I Were A Rich Man...Psychologists
Show How Pursuit of Material Wealth and Pursuit of
Happiness Are Not the Same" by American Psychological
"Will Money Increase Subjective Well-Being?"
by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Social Indicators
Research, Vol. 57, 2002, pp. 119"“169.
"Money and Subjective Well-Being: It's
Not the Money, It's the Motives" by A.
Srivastava, E. A. Locke, and K. M. Bartol, Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 80, 2002,
I believe that now, and even more so in the
future, we need to ask questions that are more inclusive
and global. Not only for the sake of our survival as a species,
but for our happiness as well. Formulating the questions
for the new era will not be easy. However, a growing body
of research in psychology supports what we know intuitively
and may be helpful in formulating those questions. According
to Tim Kasser, author of The High Price of Materialism (MIT
Press, 2002), we can separate our happiness needs into two
categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic goals (I call them material goals)
value acquisition, status, image, and receiving rewards
or praise. Intrinsic goals (I call them non-material goals)
value things like personal growth, caring, trust, respect
in our relationships, and community connections. I believe
that it is a balance between material and non-material pursuits
that produces a fertile breeding ground for happiness. If
we want our children and grandchildren to be happy, we would
do well to help them find that balance.
What might be the questions that our children
and grandchildren will need to ask? A basic organizing question
might be What do I do when I have enough? Ancillary questions
might be How can I be of help in the world? How do I want
to make an impact?
Instead of asking people What do you do and
expecting the answer to reveal how much money they make,
the question might be asked to mean: What do you do to make
this world a better place for others? What kind of volunteering
do you love? How are you involved in the lives of your children?
What town or community committees do you attend or lead?
Isn't that what John Maynard Keynes meant when he
predicted that we would become economically purposive for
Striking the Right Balance
As a society, when it comes to the material and the non-material,
we seem, for the most part, out of balance-perhaps
way off balance. If we listen carefully, we realize that
even our language is out of balance. When we say things
like, "He is very successful," we mean materially
successful. When we say, "He is doing well,"
we mean doing well materially. When we say, "They
are comfortable," we mean materially comfortable.
Not long ago, I asked a colleague how her spouse was doing.
She replied, "Great. He is up 14% for the year."
When I expressed surprise at her response, she explained
that most people who ask her that question mean, "How
is he doing financially?"
Although the pursuit of acquisition, status,
image, and rewards has become the dominant part of our pursuit
of happiness, I think we are beginning to realize that it
is futile to pursue one set of goals to the exclusion of
the other, and that the pursuit of happiness is about pursuing
both sets of needs and maintaining a healthy relationship
between them. When our intrinsic and extrinsic pursuits
become balanced, then when we say our children are doing
well, others will not automatically assume they are making
a lot of money, but perhaps that they are doing good in
Taking on the Challenge
Every week I talk with more and more individuals who are
taking on the challenge of this balance and are pondering
the "great change in the material environment of life."
They are eager to become economically purposive for others
and are genuinely concerned about the happiness of future
generations-not only that of their own children and
grandchildren, but of others as well.
We need to support them in their efforts.
Most of all, we need to find a way to incorporate their
intrinsic needs and goals into the very definition of what
it means to be successful and, ultimately, happy in this
country. Redefining the meaning of success and happiness
in our culture promises to be one of the central challenges
of our time."¢
1 "Economic Possibilities for
our Grandchildren" by J. M. Keynes, Essays in Persuasion,
London: MacMillan and Co., 1930 , p. 366, as quoted
in "The Inheritance of Wealth and Commonwealth: The
Ideal of Paideia in an Age of Affluence" by Paul G.
Schervish, Philanthropy Across the Generations, Vol. 42
of New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, Dwight
F. Burlingame (ed.), 2004, pp. 5-24.
2 "The Funds, Friends, and Faith of
Happy People" by David G. Myers, American Psychologist,
Vol. 55, 2000, pp. 56-67, as cited in "Consumerism
and Its Discontents" by Tori DeAngelis, Monitor on
Psychology, June 2004, pp. 50-54.