For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? — Jesus (Mark 8:36)
Monday, May 11, 2015
A Hair’s Breadth to Happiness by Todd Neva
A Hair’s Breadth to Happiness
May 11, 2015, by Todd Neva, guest blogger
“I have hundreds of Rubles I don’t know what to do with, and she stands in her tattered cloak looking timidly at me,” Count Bezukhov thought of a peddler woman. “And what does she want money for? As if that money could add a hair’s breadth to happiness or peace of mind. Can anything in the world make her or me less a prey to evil and death?”1
In Leo Tolsky’s War & Peace, Pierre had left his beautiful wife Helene at his Moscow palace and traveled to his home in Petersburg. Helene called him an idiot for suspecting she had an affair with Dolokhov. Pierre had challenged the insolent man to a duel and shot him, but now suffered overwhelming regret. He was in a loveless marriage, and he felt awkward in Moscow society. His life was not happier since he inherited a massive fortune and became Count Bezukhov.
Such a profound question Tolsky asks: Does money buy happiness? Great literature asks the big questions; this blog attempts to answer them.
In 2010, economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahnemana, both of Princeton University, published a study that showed Americans do feel happier as incomes increase up to $75,000, after which there is no greater degree of happiness no matter how much they make. The study also showed absolute wealth didn’t matter, rather people were happier when they were relatively wealthier than their peers. The same poll done in other countries showed similar results, but at different income thresholds. As incomes rise, stress decreases.
Apparently, money does add a hair’s breadth to happiness and peace of mine.
The Apostle Paul warned of the power of money, or at least the desire for money. He said that we should be content with food and clothing. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. It’s the craving for money, he continued, that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.3
We shouldn’t take Paul’s admonition too far and reject wealth or despise the rich. James tells us to look after the widows and orphans.4 We have more capacity to do that when we have wealth. We shouldn’t love money, we shouldn’t crave money, but we can use prosperity for good.
The United States may be the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Is there greed? Sure. Is there income inequality? Sure. Nonetheless, capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system. As Winston Churchill pointed out, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”5
Recently, my cousin visited us all the way from St. Petersburg, Russia. She said when people in Russia get ALS, they lie in their beds. There is no safety net, and the average person is so poor he can’t afford to purchase even the most basic adaptive equipment, like a wheelchair.
It’s a stark difference from my life. Slings and lifts transfer me out of bed and to my power wheelchair. I roll around in my accessible house. I get out on the town in my accessible van. I have a window that opens to the world sitting on my desk with a trackpad mouse and the clicker at my feet. Money might not buy happiness, but it certainly pays for my independence and quality of life.
I’m thankful for the top 10% of income earners who pay 70% of US federal taxes that fund Medicare for the disabled.6 I’m thankful for Americans heart for giving to organizations like MDA, which provides equipment to people who can’t afford to purchase it themselves.
Luke records Jesus saying, “Blessed be the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Does he mean all who live in poverty will go to heaven? What did he mean? Matthew quotes Jesus in the same sermon with more context: “Blessed be the poor in spirit.”7 Jesus is all about the heart. Rejecting wealth to stave off the temptation of greed makes as little sense as burning a bounty crop to stave off the temptation of gluttony.
“Money is a terrible master, but an excellent servant.” ~ P.T. Barnum
Todd Neva has a Bachelor of Science, Business, and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. He worked for sixteen years in the fields of marketing research and finance until becoming permanently disabled with ALS. He co-authored (with his wife Kristin Neva) Heavy: Finding Meaning after a Terminal Disease, which has not brought him prosperity, but has blessed the poor in spirit. He blogs on the topics of suffering, grief, and disability at nevastory.com.
Todd Neva and his family live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
1. Tolstoy, Leo (2010-07-23). War and Peace (Kindle Locations 7175-7177). Superior Formatting Publishing. Kindle Edition.