How far can we be happy without money?


Thursday 18th September 2014

The discussion began with a real life example of parents debating over whether one of them should take a new job which meant more money but equally more time away from the family. Would the happiness of the family be compromised?  And in any case, did the family really need more money?  Weren’t they just happy with how things were?

Bizarre questions, yes? Surely everyone could do with more money.  But reflect a little beyond the mere attraction of wealth and the satisfaction of your material needs.  At some point in your life, you’ll be faced with a similar choice: shall I become a world renowned medical specialist in my chosen field or devote myself to my family? Career or home? Money or love?

We’d like to think that in the 21st Century we can have both.  But really?  Can you devote your time and energy to becoming a great medic and still have enough left over to play long hours of video games with your children or even give consistent time to support them in their homework?  Presumably there are people who can juggle both work and family and still be happy, but they appear to be in the minority.

And it’s harder for women to decide, isn’t it? All her life, a woman is shaped by the expectations of others to fulfil a certain domestic role.  A woman’s happiness is often defined in terms of a specific stereotype: birth, cook, clean and work.  Who has ever heard of a woman working throughout the whole pregnancy, giving birth to a baby and then saying, “That’s it! I’m back at work as of tomorrow.  Someone else’ll look after Jonny.”?  Of course, if you’re rich enough, you can hire a nanny (like in previous centuries).  If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have found a man who’s willing to be a house husband full time.  But if you’re like the majority of people, you’ll either share the responsibility while working full time or one (or both) of you will work part time.

The question raises much discussion about the wider social expectations of men and women. For example, on the whole, men are still considered as the main breadwinners, aren’t they?  A man isn’t expected to spend much of his time (if any), cleaning the toilet, hoovering and generally keeping the house tidy.  That isn’t to say many men don’t do these things and more! Have we really come very far at all in our attitudes towards men and women?  (Of course we have, but there are still many unspoken constraints.)

So the moral of this discussion is: when faced with a choice of career or family – money or love – you cannot always choose by calculating rationally the pros and cons of the situation. As with the discussion about the morality of charitable giving last week , very often you will go with your intuition.  So trust them.  Make sure you sharpen them.  And most of all, remember that your intuitions may often be better for you and lead to a happier life than making a decision based on lots of information and, dare one say it, lots of evidence…

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