Can Prosperity Make You Happy?

We’ve all heard it before, “Money can’t buy you happiness”. You hear about the uber-wealthy who are depressed, commit suicide and there you have it! I mean if the rich aren’t happy with all of their glittery trappings of yachts, mansions and Super Bowl tickets, that’s certainly proof positive that the Porsche Carrera or Gucci handbag you’re drooling over is not going to raise any endorphins any time soon.  But if that were the case, what about the wealthy who are very happy? Even the humble and meek suffer unhappiness, depression from time to time, so is it fair to say that the wealthy don’t find happiness in their world?

Something breaks down right about the time you equate buying happiness with purchasing items that provide security, comfort and enjoyment – all of which can, in the end, make you happier. The question is not always will the purchase of a new BMW X5 make you happy? As much as, will the benefits you get out of buying the new X5 clear your life of certain worry and discomfort, making room for you to be happy driving such a vehicle? For most maybe it’s not the ability to purchase luxury items, but the accommodations and enjoyment we receive from ownership of these items.

I remember about twelve years ago I was chin deep in all things Dave Ramsey. Just in case you’ve been lounging under a rock lately, Dave is a get-out-of-debt radio/television/speaker guru-type who espouses the virtues (almost literally) of being debt-free with a biblical perspective. We were members of a local baptist church, the kids very little (all under 10-years old) and everyone followed Dave’s teachings, so of course, we jumped on the bandwagon buying his latest book, signing up for his website membership (a monthly payment) and I began the typical journey of any good-hearted stay-at-home mom and I printed off worksheets, budget plans, etc. I think that lasted about 10-months, if I want to be generous with myself, before the weight of it all bore down on me and my husband. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

Here’s where I had the most trouble: Dave’s plan, and others like it – and there are many knock-offs since, let’s face it, paying off debt and living below your means isn’t a new concept – they all make you feel like absolute crap for having anything that remotely resembles a creature comfort while at the same time owing  a credit card company or dental office their monthly due. In my experience, I found that having someone tell you, because you have a credit card or car loan payment, you and your family don’t deserve a vacation in Florida, or a new suit for your job interview and don’t even get me started on a new or, gasp!, leased car. It’s that, right there… you don’t deserve those things that bubbled up something from deep down that said ‘I don’t know if I like someone I don’t even know, and who isn’t God Himself, telling me I am undeserving”. To be honest, I don’t know if the anti-prosperity gurus still spew this stuff, because I don’t listen to them anymore, but I know they did back when I hung on their every word and that was enough!

This falls in line with much of the rhetoric in religion which tells you that if you want anything beyond necessity, you need to think again. I can’t tell you how many times I heard pastors and speakers talk about the commandment not to “covet” your neighbors house (not verbatim, but close enough). After research and study though (something you apparently only do after you leave the church), it seems there are some scholars that believe the word covet is mistranslated and actually means “to take”. Well, yeah, you shouldn’t take your neighbors stuff. Common sense, that. But why then does the church so vehemently hold their members to lack? And just in case you don’t think the church has a very special warm-and-fuzzy disdain for acquiring wealth, just mention the word “prosperity” and see what happens.

In her book E-Cubed, Pam Grout wrote:

“Your current financial situation is a reflection of your beliefs and expectations. Once you change your beliefs and expectations, your entire financial situation will change.”  

I grew up like many with the old paradigm that being rich, having expensive things and, worst of all, desiring to acquire more, were all attributes you did not want, they were inherently bad and on the extreme end evil. In the past, whenever we wanted a newer car, bigger home or larger paycheck, our old friend guilt would pay us a lingering visit. I cannot tell you how freeing it was to finally step away from the gospel of lack I clung to for decades. Once we allowed ourselves the privilege of this great universe, God’s gifts, to expand our territory and prosper, our whole world changed. And the best part is, it’s still changing, and not just for the good… but for the best! We literally changed the way we felt and thought about money. No longer something to be reviled or feared, but to be used for the good of happiness and charity. I tell you, there is nothing better than the ability to give.

So, again, does the new car buy happiness? Happiness, as most of us already know, can’t be bought, it is felt… deep down joy kind of stuff that lifts the soul and allows you to feel as though you are lighter than air, each step easier. What the new car buys is a vehicle that gives you a more comfortable ride; seats that are better for your back and if you travel or just have a long commute to and from your job this could be priceless. What about the reliability of the car? This is a huge one. When buying a car for you to drive on busy highways and interstates, for some on a daily basis and with family in tow, you want something that isn’t going to break down during five-o’clock rush hour.

What about other things money can buy? Like that vacation to the beach you don’t supposedly deserve if you have a credit card payment. What if that vacation refreshes your soul while you stand on the white sands, listening to the ocean’s roar, while in the background you hear the laughter of children… or maybe that’s you laughing! 🙂  And what if while on this vacation you and your spouse hold hands while taking long leisurely walks along the shoreline and you both reconnect, revisit a time when holding hands was magical. Or, could you use that tropical retreat to sit on the pool deck of your hotel, sipping gourmet coffee and brainstorming a new business/novel/invention, letting your creativity soar while the morning sunrise sparkles over the white caps.  Then you come home, and yeah, you still have a monthly credit card payment, but guess what else you have? A refreshed soul, a happier relationship and a new lease on life with ideas that could finally encourage you start that business or look for that dream job!

And, best of all, what if after the feeling of security you provided with the new car, the feeling you get from an easier commute that brings you home to loved ones in a better mood; the emotions of anticipation and excitement you harbor because you now have started that new business venture, that new job with the bigger company, you find yourself better able to give to charity more easily, actually save more and maybe even help out a friend in financial need. Would any of this make you happy? I certainly hope so.

Money is not bad. New cars, vacations, larger homes… are not evil. You are not a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle, my friend. You are a wonderful person who wants all the largesse this beautiful world has to offer. God’s universe is not about lack and scarcity, but rather about providing you with everything you need and, yes, want! Do you know what you need? You need to be happy! And if forgoing the mac-and-cheese and rice for dinner in favor of dinner out at your favorite restaurant provides you and others with smiles and giggles, even if just for a few hours, then I say Bon Apetit!

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