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Jewish World Review August 29, 2003 / 1 Elul, 5763

Tom Purcell

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People who have it all, too often don't | Get this: money doesn't make us happy.

That's right, a University of Southern California researcher says that increased wealth does not lead to greater happiness. He says that the more money we have, the more things we want - that we end up working longer and harder to get more things. He says that's foolish, because the true source of happiness is the same as it's always been: spending quality time with loved ones and enjoying good health.

But in America we have to do studies to remember that.

We're a conflicted people in America. On one hand, we want wealth and fame. We want people to bow down to us when we walk into a public place. We want adulation and expensive cars and big houses staffed by a dozen servants. We believe in our bones that more money will make us happy and we work like crazy to acquire it.

But on the other hand we know wealth and fame are bogus. You never know who your friends really are. You're surrounded by people looking for a handout. And if you ever do anything stupid, the newspapers will find out about it and your stupidity will be broadcast around the world. Poor Ben and Jlo. I hope they work that stripper incident out.

Where happiness is concerned, I defer to the great singer-philosopher Kenny Rogers who, in an A&E biography piece, said all anyone needs to be happy is three things: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.

But of course. Don Rickles says that his happiest days were when he was just starting out. He had just enough money to get by. He was in love with his wife. And he was among good friends doing what he loved on stage every night. How much better can life really get?

But we all know this. And keep forgetting it.

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I was talking with my brother-in-law's parents a few months ago at a Sunday outing. They told me stories about growing up in Pittsburgh sixty or more years ago. They had no money at all - had no idea they were poor - but they were wealthy beyond belief.

Their neighborhood was filled with characters, people watching out for them, and lots of friends to play with. They said it took forever to walk to the store and back, with people stopping them to say hello. They said they feel sorry for kids today who have material wealth, but will never know the fun they had growing up.

But we know all this. We know that the happiest moments in our own lives involved friends and family. These are the people who affect the deeper part of our nature, our spirits and souls, where true happiness resides. These are the people who can make us laugh so hard our guts hurt or help us when we're down or engage us in deeply satisfying conversations.

And yet we spend most of our waking hours not nurturing our friends and families but chasing success and money and a bigger house, and the happiness that is right under our noses eludes us.

There's a story about a fisherman sitting on the beach with his wife one afternoon and enjoying the surf. The fisherman enjoyed a big catch earlier that morning, so came in for the day. A rich businessman approached him.

"Why didn't you keep fishing and bring in twice as many fish?" said the businessman.

"Why?" said the fisherman.

"Because then you could have a bigger profits. Then you could buy another boat and hire employees."

"Why?" said the fisherman.

"Then you could keep growing and have more profit. You could buy more boats and hire more employees."

"Why?" said the fisherman.

"Because then you could work long and hard for many years and grow rich."

"Why?" said the fisherman.

"Because then you and your wife could retire and relax on the beach," said the businessman.

"But that's what I'm doing now."

The really happy people in life spend their time more wisely than most of us Americans. They nurture friends and family and are made strong. Their friends and family encourage them to do the work they love, not the job that pays well. In time, the money follows and they end up rich.

But if you don't believe me, don't worry. Sooner or later somebody will do a study on it.

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05/16/03: Laffer all the way to the bank
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05/02/03: Teaching the Iraqis how to protest
04/25/03: Iraqi TV
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04/11/03: Major increases to the beer tax? That's a cheap shot right to the beer gut
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11/26/02: Police advertising
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07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
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06/28/02: Eavesdropping on a San Fran classroom
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04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell