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Can money buy happiness?
Merril Diniz
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August 18, 2005

Can money buy happiness?

Yes, according to a new academic research in the United States.

But the old saw that financial gain doesn't a happy life make, seems partly true; a person's well-being appears to be in proportion to his or her relative wealth compared to his/ her peers.

The study, by academics from Pennsylvania State and Harvard University, finds that richer people tend to be happier than poorer people. The data also revealed that the green-eyed monster, jealousy, influences how people gauge how happy they are.

"The higher the income of others in one's age group, the lower one's happiness," said Glenn Firebaugh, a sociological researcher at Pennsylvania State University and one of the report's co-authors.

The research contains a worrying message for society, as the close observation of others' income, a 'keeping up with the Joneses' trend, forces people to continually increase their income, the report said.

"Rather than promoting overall happiness, continued income growth could promote an ongoing consumption race where individuals consume more and more just to maintain a constant level of happiness," said Firebaugh.

The research is contained in the report, 'Relative Income and Happiness: Are Americans on a Hedonic Treadmill?'

Firebaugh and Harvard researcher Laura Tach based their findings on 20 to 64-year-olds, adding controls for race, marital status, educational level, ageing and health.

What happiness means to me

"A higher income can make one happy in a way because it satisfies a person's needs and wants. Yet, the value of happiness is intangible so we need to look at higher income in context," says 25-year old Altaf Abid, a researcher with a production house.

For Altaf, his circle of friends, family, books, travel plans and path to his goals translates into happiness. "Being able to spend time with myself and being able to smile and think positive means happiness," he says.

Tanvi Jain, a 24-year new media executive has different take, "Happiness is probably a feeling you get when you are doing what you really want to do."

How does she cope with 'unhappiness'? She likes to think things over, eat, watch television, go out, read and "do stuff to keep my mind off whatever is making me unhappy, if I don't want to think about it."

Though she isn't an avid shopper, she is not averse to shopping as a means of temporary relief from a state of 'unhappiness'.

"Surprisingly it works very well at times, as your mind and energy are engaged elsewhere," she says. 

Retail therapy: A permanent solution?

In India, the concept of retail therapy is on the rise. For those of you don't know what this is, it's simple. If you feel down in the dumps, indulge yourself. Shop, eat -- basically spend and feel better.

Malini Shah, a youth counsellor with Avishkaar Clinic, shares some shocking statistics on retail therapy as a burgeoning habit among urban people: 72 percent of the upper class, 63.2 percent amongst the upper middle class, 43 percent of the middle class and 15 percent of the lower classes resort to it. Among teenagers, the figure is 54 percent!

"It's true that shopping can temporarily alleviate feelings of sadness or unhappiness; but it is a very transitory feeling. The root cause for our sadness remains, and hence those feelings invariably recur," says psychologist Samindara Sawant.

Happiness, a state of mind

According to Shah, happiness is a state of mind; so is unhappiness.

The latter is caused by your thoughts in response to a situation, as well as the helplessness you feel while dealing with the situation. You could also feel that the circumstance is brought about by external situations, which is not true.

"You are what you think. Hence, if you remain conscious about your thoughts, you can alter them and gain control over your feelings," she says.

Feeling down in the dumps? Here's some advice

~ Try to work through your feelings, experience them to the fullest, assimilate them and then attempt to move on.

~ If you feel it is beyond your ability to cope with the sadness, seek the help of your significant other or friends.

~  If this does not work, seek therapy from a professional to help you cope with your situation.

~ Make a logbook of your dominant thoughts and situations that upset you.

~ Indulge in activities like hobbies, spending time with family and friends, taking short holidays, instead of resorting to shopping.

~ Eat right and stay fit.

~ Engage in learning new things to keep your mind stimulated and active.

~ You may feel you can do nothing to change your situation. However, you must be aware of your positive qualities and use them to be confident. Accepting that there will ups and downs is essential. This will help you deal with situations in a better way.

~ Be clear about what you want from life; if you suppress your realistic needs, it will lead to disappointments.

~ Express your emotions and communicate constantly; many times, a breakdown in communication causes loneliness and this can lead to unhappiness.

With inputs from PTI

What is your take? Can money and material possessions make your happier? Do you indulge in retail therapy to feel better? How do you deal with unhappiness? Write to us!

Don't forget to mention your name, age and profession. 

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