We have been told that money can’t buy happiness and we have for the most part believed it and perpetuated it by repeating the adage and by allowing it to become part of our culture and personal belief system. How many of these adages have we allowed into our heads and hearts because we never challenged them or tested the theories ourselves. Recent research has actually challenged this old adage and found it to not be completely true. Money did buy happiness when it was spent on or given to others. In the study a small sum of money was given to study participants; Group 1 was told to spend the money on themselves for something they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves and Group 2 was told to use the money to buy something for someone else. The amounts were fairly insignificant, from $5-$20, and at the end of the day the participants were polled about how their happiness levels were for the day. Overwhelmingly, the ones who had been instructed to spend the money on others reported significantly higher happiness levels. While the ones who spent the money on themselves had only a temporary moment of happiness, the ones who spent on others reported a lasting level of happiness. (TED Talks- Michael Norton: How to buy happiness)
This train of thought was triggered by two things that I have recently been exposed to: the first was seeing someone I love very much make some devastating financial decisions that landed them homeless and an “infomercial” that I listened to recently. In seeing this person create a situation that ended with them becoming homeless and having to rely on the kindness and charity of others was heart wrenching. But through this experience they have finally understood that true happiness and contentment comes from serving others and not having “stuff”. This has been a blessing for them and for me as well. The infomercial was Sean Hyman, a financial guru of sorts, who has a theory about money and Christianity. He talks about how making lots of money and being wealthy is biblical. He points out that the scripture is full of references about prosperity and how God wants us to be prosperous. He of course then offers to sell you his formula for success and you too can be wealthy in a very Christian way. Yes, I listened to the entire sales pitch because some of what he said intrigued me. I wanted to know exactly why we as Christians believe that money is bad and that the rich are going straight to hell. I have been looking at this more critically and searching out scripture and cultural research for answers. What does the bible really say about money, happiness, evil and the rich? What have we been taught to believe about money and will having money make us happy and how does this apply to my life and dear Lord what exactly does this require of me?
As usual, the reason I do things and I believe I’m not exactly alone in this, is to figure out just exactly how much do I, personally have to do, and just how little is acceptable. And Lord, please don’t tell me that I have to sell everything I own and live in poverty to go to heaven! (Matt 19:16-24) Which is why I like to just skip over the gospel story of the rich man who asks Jesus what good deed he could do so that he might receive eternal life. I started to get answers to my questions when Jesus responds; “keep the commandments”, and when the rich man answers; but I’m already doing that, Jesus responds with a very pointed “sell all you have and give it to the poor”. This is where I realized that all of the scripture and cultural references that talk about money and why it is bad and why it “doesn’t buy happiness” had to do with not keeping the commandment of loving my neighbor as yourself. The “love of money” is the root of evil, not the money. (1Tim 6:6-12) And we need to be loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, not loving our money and keeping it to ourselves. Being rich or wealthy affords us an opportunity to “love our neighbor” even more. In loving our neighbors as God loves us, we will bless others with all we have and we will in turn be blessed with happiness and eternal life. I also noticed that in each of the scripture readings that I had found where being rich was deemed a problem, came from the lack of loving your neighbor and not being in a harmonious relationship with others. And this was reinforced with research that shows that when we try to hang on to our money and when the amount of money we have is out of balance to what others have we act in ways that keep us from living the commandment to love one another. (TED Talks- Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?) This in turn brought me to a place where I could understand the true value of why I personally need to be “in church” and have a church family, why it is important to be a good steward of my own personal finances and give to others from what I have been blessed with. In my quest to uncover my own beliefs about money, I watched an interview with Rick Warren, which I will admit I had prejudged him, he spoke about tithing and how after the money began to pour in from his book being on the best-seller list for several years, he and his wife began to reverse tithe. They live on 10% and give 90% to charity and others. I will admit that my personal belief system may make it a bit easier for me to see the need for caring for others and that this belief system has more than once, cost me more than I had to give, not just financially but emotionally and mentally as well. But I believe that spiritually, I have been blessed and that if I am to truly live what I believe “giving is better than receiving” and I have to admit, I am pretty happy.
©Amber E Keithley 2014