More Than Money
Issue #38

Money and Happiness

Table of Contents

“New World Coming”

By Pamela Gerloff

Copyright © 2004 by More Than Money. All rights reserved. For permission to use or reprint articles, please contact More Than Money at 617-864-8200 or .

Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D., is the editor of More Than Money Journal.

"Another world is not only possible,
she is on her way.
And on a quiet day, if you really listen,
you can hear her breathing."

-Arundhati Roy

I remember once, when I was a kid, I came upon my mother laughing. She was sitting at the kitchen table with the newspaper and just laughing. Right there in the kitchen with no one else but herself. I asked what she was laughing at and she handed me the Peanuts comic strip she had just read. I looked at the cartoon, the punch line of which was Lucy, ecstatically happy, saying something about how she was afraid she might die of "heart-pop." My face must have looked as blank as I felt, because my mother stopped and looked at me and said, "Oh. Maybe you've never felt that way."

That was probably the first moment in my life when I apprehended that adults had rich interior lives of which children can be completely unaware. Suddenly I saw my mother as not just my mother but as someone who had her own experiences in life, independent from me, full of profound and complex emotions. It was as if a window of perception had opened. I wondered what might have made her so happy that she had thought she might die of heart-pop. I wondered what might make me feel that way someday.

When the doors of perception open, a new kind of listening emerges. And that's when you can "hear her breathing," the new world that is on her way.

The world today is racked with trauma, pain, and suffering, and sometimes it can be hard to hear the quieter, subtler sounds that play beneath the surface. Yet, in every moment of today, somewhere in the world a child is laughing, a young mother is bursting with heart-pop, an old man is sitting in silent contentment, and teenagers are engaging in exuberant activity. It's true in our own individual lives as well. Whatever our mood of the moment, happiness is there, breathing beneath the surface, waiting for us to listen and to hear.

Today there is something new emerging in our culture. It is a growing recognition that despite our economic and material gains, we haven't become a happier society. An increasing body of research tells us what some of us have known intuitively and what others have learned from experience: More money, in itself, does not make us happier. In fact, it can, and often does, lead to increased alienation, depression, and discontent.

So what do we do about that? In an increasingly affluent society, how do we provide our children and grandchildren with what they will need to be happy? How do we create happiness for ourselves and for our world? Can happiness be chosen? Nurtured? Taught? Even more fundamentally: Why concern ourselves with happiness at all?

The reason, I believe, is very simple: As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, The world of those who are happy is different from the world of those who are not. And that difference makes a difference.

Haven't you noticed it? When people are profoundly happy they naturally want to share their happiness with others. They are kinder and more considerate. They're more generous and giving. They notice what is positive and good, and that very noticing calls forth the good in themselves and others. When people are genuinely happy, they don't want to harm another. They don't want to create pain or separation. Because they are happy, they want others to be happy too. Because they are happy, others are happy too.

This understanding has important implications as we examine the intersection of money and happiness. To me, suggests that the quest for personal happiness is connected in significant ways to our collective happiness. It also points us toward a newer world of happiness emerging, if we will let it come.

No matter how unhappy we may have been or may be at any given time in our lives, we have all had at least one moment of genuine happiness, when our heart filled up and over with what is great and good inside us. And (or) we have all been around others when they were experiencing such a moment.

All it takes is a single moment show us the way.

Like my mother's experience heart-pop, like the insights and understandings of the people on these pages, the moments of our own and others' experience can become doorways new perception, heralding the coming of a world that is not only possible, but is on her way.

And if we listen, really listen, we might just hear her breathing.

Editorial Policy: The views expressed in More Than Money Journal are not necessarily those of More Than Money. We encourage and support respectful dialogue among people of diverse viewpoints. In each journal issue, we provide a range of perspectives on a topic to stimulate reflection, conversation, and inspired action.

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