It is most likely that upon being exposed to the question “If money cannot buy happiness can you ever be truly happy without money?”, one would be willing to assume that the positive answer to this question will necessarily have some moralistic/religious undertones to it. Moreover, many people would also argue that by asserting such a possibility, an individual will be triggering a psychological “defence mechanism” while trying to cope with the realisation that he or she does not have enough money to be considered truly happy – especially as compared to some Arab emirs and sheikhs, who can afford buying dozens of luxurious yachts and building palaces out of pure marble. However, it is also possible to confirm the sheer soundness of the concerned hypothetical presupposition from the scientific point of view – specifically, while evaluating it from the neurological/psychological and sociological perspectives. The following Analysis will explore the validity of this suggestion at length.
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Before proceeding to answer the question, we must first outline what accounts for the main discursive implication of the fact that the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species are, in fact, nothing but hairless primates. In its turn, this means that, just as it is the case with the rest of mammals, it is specifically the limbic part of one’s brain that formulates the innermost essence of his or her existential agenda. This agenda is utterly “biological”, in the sense of presupposing that there are only three truly worthy objectives to anyone’s life – food (ensuring that there is plenty of nutrients), sex (for the purpose of “spreading the genome”), and domination (attaining a dominant status within a society). The considerations of morality/ethics have no place, whatsoever, within the context of how people go about trying to achieve the mentioned objectives – even when they make a point in indulging in the moral/religious rhetoric during the process. This explains why most people think of money as the pathway to happiness – such their tendency is predetermined by the Darwinian laws of evolution, which apply to the “hairless apes” as much as they do to other animals and plants (Dawkins 2014).
The tendency’s mechanics are simple – being in the possession of any substantial sum of money increases a person’s chance to secure a dominant status within the society, which in turn will result in strengthening his/her appeal to the representatives of the opposite gender, and consequentially in making it likelier for the concerned individual to succeed in replicating its genome – the ultimate purpose of just about any form of organic life. Therefore, there is nothing odd about the fact that while claiming a considerable amount of money people naturally experience happiness – this sensation is induced by the limbic system’s release of endorphins into their brains (Rickard & Vella-Brodrick 2014). And, the “easier” is the monetary gain, the “sweeter” it is (more endorphins are released into the brain). By coming into the possession of some “easy money” (without having to apply much mental effort), one is able to preserve the limited operational resources of his or her brain – while accounting for only one-fiftieth of the person’s bodily mass, the brain consumes up to 30% of all the bodily energy. (Magistretti & Allaman 2015). This explains why most people are obsessed with the idea of winning the lottery and why the prospect of stealing something and being able to get away with it represents such an irresistible appeal to them.
Nevertheless, during the course of history a new “sub-species” of people has emerged, consisting of the individuals with the significantly enlarged neocortex and the associative regions in it. Initially, the purpose of such a development was strictly “biological” – people with an enlarged neocortex are better “equipped” for addressing the societally complex cognitive tasks, which leads to domination and ultimately – “baby-making”. At the same time, however, the concerned evolutionary turn resulted in enabling this type of people to cease being affected by their own animalistic (limbic) anxieties 24/7. While not being able to lead any other lifestyle, but the socially integrated one (due to the particulars of their “evolutionary specialisation”), such individuals are naturally predisposed towards seeking a consciously driven (not “chemical”) sensation of happiness, which is triggered by their realization that they were able to contribute to the society’s overall well-being in one way or another – even if at the expense of adopting a self-sacrificial/impoverished stance in life. Due to the specifics of their “brain-wiring”, the “non-biological” persons think of money in solely instrumental terms, which means that the latter cannot be the source of happiness by definition. Hence, the “neurological” reply to the assignment’s question – yes, it is possible for an individual to be happy without money, for as long as the morphological structuring of his or her brain determines a weakened state of the limbic (primeval) impulses within it. In its turn, this can be confirmed/disconfirmed by requiring the person to undergo a tomographic scanning.
The methodological framework of sociology allows us to assess the question from yet another angle. As it was implied earlier, most people tend to react ironically to the suggestion that “money cannot buy happiness”. Hence, the popularity of the saying – “money will never buy you happiness, but they can sure make your misery much more enjoyable”. Can this be deemed as yet another indication that the former suggestion indeed does not make much of a sense and that only the utterly naïve/highly religious people may consider this suggestion thoroughly viable? Most definitely not. The rationale behind this suggestion is as follows.
Even though we are naturally tempted to assume that our opinions about the surrounding social reality and its manifestations are “innately genuine” (in the sense of being reflective our individuality), this is not quite the case. The reason for this is apparent – people’s thoughts are strongly affected by what happens to be the currently dominant sociocultural discourse. And, as of today, the predominant discourse in the West is that of Neoliberalism – the ideology based on the assumption that one’s individual rights and freedoms cannot be restricted, even if such a state of affairs results in undermining the society’s structural/functional integrity from within (Ludwig 2016). In its turn, one’s endowment with these rights and freedoms is presumed serving one purpose only – empowering the person within the context of how he or she goes about satisfying its consumerist instincts. Consequently, this presupposes that the notions of “happiness” and “consumption” are essentially synonymous – hence, causing people to think that the money is indeed the instrument of happiness.
There is, however, another ideological paradigm that used to enjoy much popularity in the past and that is very likely to become just as popular in the future (due to the apparent fiasco of Neoliberalism) – that of Socialism. According to it, one experiences happiness as a result of having realised that he or she is fully capable of applying a conscious and continual effort into becoming a better person (self-perfection) while prioritising the society’s overall interests above those of its own. The validity of the Socialist stance, in this respect, is supported by two considerations: a). One’s existence is spatially limited, which means that it cannot have any objective value as a “thing in itself”; b). Because they are socially integrated beings, it is unnatural for people to consider resorting to the anti-social means of attaining happiness (Rooksby 2012).
Socially minded individuals derive happiness from being able to confirm to themselves that their existence makes a higher systemic sense. Hence, the main happiness-inducing pursuit, on these people’s part – living their lives in such a manner so that the lives of their children and grandchildren would be better than those of their own (Dodd 2012). It is understood, of course, that this implies the irrelevance of money, within the process’s context, and allows us to come up with the positive answer to the assignment’s question – this time from the perspective of popular sociology.
In light of what has been mentioned earlier, the deployed line of argumentation (in defence of the suggestion that it is indeed possible to be truly happy without money) appears fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. The paper’s most important discursive implication is that when it comes to answering a question of the presumably moral/ethical significance, one will be much better off doing it in accordance with the principle of analytical (scientific) inquiry. Apparently, many of the surrounding “social facts” (Durkheim’s term) are not quite as phenomenological as they may appear initially.
Dawkins, R 2014, Apes with big brains, New Statesman, London.
Dodd, N 2012, ‘Simmel’s perfect money: fiction, socialism and utopia in the philosophy of money’, Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 29, no. 7, pp. 146-155.
Ludwig, G 2016, ‘Desiring Neoliberalism’, Sexuality Research & Social Policy, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 417-427.
Magistretti, P & Allaman, I 2015, ‘A cellular perspective on brain energy metabolism and functional imaging’, Neuron, vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 883-901.
Rickard, N & Vella-Brodrick, D 2014, ‘Changes in well-being: complementing a psychosocial approach with neurobiological insights’, Social Indicators Research, vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 437-457.
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Rooksby, E 2012, ‘The relationship between Liberalism and Socialism’, Science & Society, vol. 76, no. 4, pp. 495-520.