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Maybe Money Can Buy Happiness, but Not Joy

In 1964, Beatles-mania was in full effect. By the time they released their song “Can’t Buy Me Love,” The Beatles were a worldwide phenomenon.

In the United States, “Can’t Buy Me Love”--a Paul McCartney penned tune about the futility of material things, sold over two million copies in its first week. In April of 1964, The Beatles also held the top five positions on the chart, something that had never been done before and hasn’t been done since.

“’Can’t Buy Me Love’ is my attempt to write a bluesy mode. The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won’t buy me what I really want,” said Paul McCartney, recounting the inspiration for his hit song.

In other words, money can do a lot of things, but it can’t buy some of the finer things in life, such as love and happiness.

A new study, just released in January 2021 in the National Academy of Sciences Journal, suggests the opposite. Happiness--or “experienced well-being,” as researchers call it--increases along with income.

From the study: “Over one million real-time reports of experienced well-being from a large US sample show evidence that experienced well-being rises linearly with log income, with an equally steep slope above $80,000 as below it. This suggests that higher incomes may still have potential to improve people’s day-to-day well-being, rather than having already reached a plateau for many people in wealthy countries. 

In the study, more than 33,000 adults between 18 and 65 were asked to record their real-time emotions in a “Track Your Happiness” app. They would answer questions like “How do you feel right now?” Or, “How satisfied are you with your life right now?”

The study found that there was no dollar value at which money stopped mattering. "Instead, higher incomes were associated with both feeling better moment-to-moment and being more satisfied with life overall," the authors wrote.

So, who’s correct? The scientists, or Paul McCartney? When you read this headline, you probably thought the easy answer to the initial question is, of course, no. Money can’t buy happiness. We all know people with plenty of money who are miserable and people with nothing who never complain.

But, this question requires a little further examination about the words we are using.

With some of the money my wife and I have received from stimulus payments, we’ve decided to do some home remodeling and put some away for a future vacation. We put in a fire pit in the back yard, we are remodeling our bathroom and planning a trip over the summer to celebrate our birthdays.

All of these things bring us great happiness. While we have been saving for these things on our to-do list, getting these stimulus payments allowed us to move up our timeline. And, don’t we all love a little instant gratification?

I’ve learned this: yes, money can buy some level of happiness… but it’s temporary. In fact, happiness, by definition, is the state of being happy. That means it’s fleeting. The very next moment, you can enter another “state.”

But, joy is lasting. Our goal shouldn’t be happiness, it should be joy. Happiness and joy are not the same thing. Happiness is a mood; joy is a mode. It comes from a spiritual place. Circumstances can bring you happiness, but it's only temporary.

Joy comes from knowing who God made you to be and recognizing all that He has blessed you with.

Have you ever been around a really joyful person? It’s contagious. Joy is the antidote to depression and discouragement.

I love Kay Warren’s definition of joy: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”

So, where does our joy come from? It comes the hope found in a relationship with Christ. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

In Nehemiah, we learn about the “joy of the Lord.” “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

When the people understood their own sinfulness, they grieved. They were overwhelmed with shame. But, Nehemiah was reminding them that the ultimate point of recognizing our own guilt is to see God’s grace. That’s how “the joy of the Lord” becomes our strength. We can rest in the grace, forgiveness, mercy and love of God.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5b). Emotions are temporary. But, if we have a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, we can always count on having His joy.

And, when we are filled with hope and joy, it’s easy for it to spill over into every aspect of our lives--relationships, our careers, how we parent and more. When we are joy-filled, it’s easier for others around us to be also.

Money, and a variety of other things, can bring us fleeting happiness, but it can’t do for us what only God can do. Our moods change from day to day and moment to moment. But, if we know and trust the Lord, we can have a new mode: the joy of the Lord.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Rawpixel

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart 

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