Sometimes we in the United States forget how privileged we are. Because of our relative wealth, we can make claims like “it’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich”. In this guest post, Saravanan P of Engineer’s Finance argues that for the poor, money is more important than happiness. Though this post has been heavily edited, keep in mind that English is not Saravanan’s native language.

Being happy is a state of mind and heart that does not matter whether we are rich or poor. But we can only make statements like “It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich” when we are rich and not poor. Being rich always gives us the power to do things at the time we want. In short, it gives us freedom.

Sometimes I think I know just what it means to have money more than Americans do. I have seen people here in India struggle to earn two to three dollars a day working for more than 12 hours. It’s hard, but still people do it. If we were to ask these people whether they are happy, they would say they are, but are they really? They assume they’re happy and move on with the life. For them happiness is merely having their bread and butter.

If you are poor, you yearn for food and nothing else — money matters more than happiness because without the minimum of money, you don’t eat. After you are rich, you tend to say that happiness is more important because your basics are already met. In fact, perhaps most rich people cannot even imagine a life in which the basics may be out of reach on any given day.

Many people argue that being rich is not as important as being happy. I just have two questions for people who say this:

  • When you are in hunger, can you think of being happy?
  • When you can’t keep yourself warm during winter, can you think of being happy?

Until you satisfy your basic needs, you can’t think of happiness. Forget about being happy. Once your basic necessities are met and you start living (not surviving), only then does happiness surface.

When you are struggling financially, you don’t worry whether you’re happy or sad. All that matters is financial security. Once you lose the financial security, you can’t be happy as a normal human being whose needs are met. Because of this, I feel that being rich is more important than being happy.

So why then do people say “It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich”? I believe we struggle hard to make ourselves rich. The path is difficult. We work hard and maybe we eventually do become rich. All this while we don’t give money the extra importance. We value our selves more than money.

After becoming rich, we value money more than our selves. We keep thinking only about money: how to save it, what to do with it. This all relates to money and not to our selves. We feel stressed out and begin to think of being happy again, that happiness we had when we were not rich.

The truth is: we are giving more importance to money than our selves, which causes pressure and makes us unhappy. Whether you or rich or poor, try not to give money too much importance. Then you can be happy no matter what.

Saravanan touches on some interesting topics here, including the notion of relative happiness. And what exactly does it mean to be “rich” anyhow? I’m reminded of studies that I’ve seen that demonstrate the very rich and the very poor are both unhappy, but that everybody else in between shares a similar level of happiness, regardless of financial circumstances. Photo by Rita Banerji.

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