Money & Happiness

Unfortunately, the old saying that money can't buy happiness is probably true, say many psychologists. The problem is that too many physicians use money to buy things, and then count on those things they buy to make them happy.

“Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”—Samuel Johnson

Unfortunately, the old saying that money can’t buy happiness is probably true, say many psychologists. The problem is that too many physicians use money to buy things, and then count on those things they buy to make them happy. It doesn’t work that way, say the experts.

The truth is that the high you get when you drive a brand-new car off the dealer’s lot doesn’t last much longer than the new-car smell, and wearing the latest fashions doesn’t make you significantly happier than wearing blue jeans.

What Is Happiness?

According to the Roman philosopher Seneca, “it’s not the man who has little who is unhappy, it’s the man who wants more.” In other words, happiness doesn’t come from buying more things, it comes from enjoying what you already have. Will Rogers put it this way: “We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.” Although that attitude is at odds with America’s prevailing consumer culture, it’s worth listening to.

The fact is, the more you have, the more you need to worry about. When you realize that having more won’t change your basic outlook on life, you may be on the road to happiness.

Then what good is money? For one thing, it can help you achieve some happiness if it allows you to work toward a balance between work and leisure that leads to a more satisfactory lifestyle. To be a doctor is often to be a workaholic, with 80-hour work-weeks frequently the norm. And when doctors do take some time off, their cell phones and pagers usually go with them. If money can help you find more relaxation and buy you some time away from the daily medical grind, it’s a useful tool. That means that money spent on hobbies you enjoy (a new fishing rod or gourmet cooking classes, for instance) can be a productive way to use it to bring you more satisfaction.

Making a DifferenceUnder managed care, physicians have often felt that they are practicing assembly-line medicine. Still, doctors have many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of their patients, which is a key ingredient to their own satisfaction. The idea is to maximize your chances to be a positive influence on the lives of others.

To the extent that money lets you make choices that increase your chances of making a positive contribution to the lives of others, it’s a plus. To the extent that accumulating it robs you of time and mental energy that could be spent in more satisfying ways, it can be very negative. In fact, a feeling of security can hinge more on our relationships with others than on material wealth.

Spending money on outings with people you like or travel to visit friends and loved ones, for example, is a worthwhile way to bring yourself greater happiness. In the words of the billionaire Warren Buffett, “Happiness is people who love you and being healthy, and money can’t buy either one.” Although Buffett may not be right about health (good medical is often worth the price), money spent on keeping yourself healthy, like a gym membership, often tends to make you happier.

75%—Percentage of Americans who believe there’s a Heaven.(USA Today, 2008)