Beyond Brushstrokes

“There is more to happiness than financial security” — Dylan Evans, Emotion: The Science of Sentiment
Some people believe that the pursuit of money is their primary goal, the summit of success. Material wealth can purchase a lifestyle of luxury, a coterie of friends, satellites, power and fame. The warped belief is that being rich equals the pinnacle of life.
On the dark side, greed and avarice drive them on a stampede on the slick speedster’s lane, no matter who gets hurt or stepped on along the way.
The almighty credit card and a pile of cash can buy many ultra-modern tech gadgets houses, cars, jewels, planes, yachts, and limitless luxuries — safaris and trips to exotic places. However, the novelty of acquisition is temporary. The buying, shopping splurge is an addiction, a compulsion to have more, to want more, and to envy or covet what others have.
Material satisfaction is fleeting. The craving to consume is hard to tame.
When one looks at the charts of happiness via-a-vis a country’s per capita GDP, the results are surprising. Sociologists have revealed — in their surveys on the quality of life, happiness and money of people in different parts of the world — that having more money does not necessarily make people happier than if they had less.
In the leading countries such as the USA, Germany and Japan, the studies show that despite prosperity and financial success, people do not feel much happier than before.
A TIME poll in the USA showed that happiness increased as income levels reached $50,000 a year. Beyond that amount, a larger income did not register a dramatic effect.
Data from psychological research show that a person’s well-being does not have a significant relationship with his income level. In their studies, sociologists have discovered a relatively new phenomenon called reference anxiety. The comparison syndrome wherein people compare with others and judge their possessions in relation to what others have.
This produces the keeping up with the Joneses affliction, the gnawing feeling of inadequacy and the vicious race to show off, brag and boast.
Visible wealth (flaunted and conspicuous) triggers dissatisfaction and envy among those who have less. Comparative voyeurism has its setbacks. The insecure may yearn for things that are unaffordable. It is a pitfall od trying to keep up.
Social media, television, lifestyle sections in the news and glossy magazines often project the fabulous, flawless and seemingly perfect lifestyle of the rich and famous (but not necessarily happy) elite and celebrities.
Psychologist Professor Edward Diner observed that what people want in “material things and life experiences has increased almost exactly in lockstep with the postwar earnings curve.”
To illustrate, observe how people climb the economic ladder. At first, they feel grateful. Then they focus on what they still don’t have. They tend to upgrade their friends, trading in the good old ones with the newly minted upscale acquaintances who belong to the upper strata.
A middle-class couple aspires for an upper-middle class the upper-class cachet. They try to penetrate and gate-crash the upper circles of society through various venues; clubs, civic organizations, the glitzy and glamorous charity balls. They hire PR experts and stylists to help them get media publicity and enter the right places.
The residents in the posh gated community have luxury and sports cars and toys. Their kids go to elite prep and Ivy League universities. They play sports, have helicopters, jets and yachts, pedigreed pets, sports teams, jewels and art collections. The arrivistes want the same — if they have the brains, connections and wherewithal to match.
It’s a tricky compulsive game of keeping up, showing off and one-upmanship. Moving up means spending more to acquire a high lifestyle.
Does it bring happiness automatically? No, just a fleeting sense of having arrived, at last.
Soon, the insecurity and anxiety creep in. There should be more and more. Nobody wants to be toppled from the ladder.
There is always something better. The grass is always greener in another pasture or hacienda or estancia.
Comparatively, the European who used to drive a modest Fiat in the 50s and his son who has a BMW are remotely connected but disconnected. The flashy late M model series cannot generate more happiness. In the same vein, a chateau with cold snobs may not be as fun as the cozy bungalow with cheerful kids.
The individual’s attitude, well-being and level of contentment are the bottom line.
Studies have shown that despite the affluence of developed countries, the urban poor have a different predicament. The comparison between this group and their counterpart in developing countries have a marked contrast.
Street people in India are relatively happier than the homeless people in California. A British think tank commented that people learn the shortcomings of their culture.
Perhaps people chase money at the expense of the meaning and value of life.
The developed world has countless advantages compared to the developing, emerging countries. The former pursues materialistic goals relentlessly in a cycle of work. They sacrifice the real principal goals that bring happiness —the love of family, friendships and other important elements of life.
In the context of the study, many successful but selfish, materialistic people are not happy.
Something is missing. The emptiness gnaws inside.
Is it Soul?
The top example of philanthropy and genuine fulfillment is Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He and his wife Melinda have created an amazing foundation that focuses on health, medical research on vaccines to prevent and treat AIDS and helping millions of poverty-stricken Africans. Their wealth is poured into the foundation (instead of huge trust funds for their children).
Albert Einstein once wrote, “Sometimes our light goes out, but it is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.