People assume more money will make them happier.
In a recently released study, described in Psychological Science, researchers at the University of Liège in Belgium tested the impact of increasing wealth on a person’s ability to “savor everyday positive emotions and experiences.” Interestingly, the research concluded “that having access to the best things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures.” In other words, having more money doesn’t necessarily lead to greater happiness.
While not coming from a religious perspective, the results of the study confirm Catholic sensibilities. They point to how an increase in wealth beyond that required to meet core needs often provides a diminishing sense of happiness. Proverbs 30:8-9 expresses a great deal of wisdom about the impact of being at either end of the wealth spectrum (poor or rich) when it says, “give me neither poverty nor riches; (provide me only with the food I need;) Lest, being full, I deny you, saying, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God.”
No matter what our financial situation, the Lord wants us to remember our ultimate destiny. We were made by him. We were made in his image. We are destined to spend eternity with him. True happiness comes from knowing this and living our lives in a manner consistent with that knowledge. It means we will love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. If, instead, we allow our desire for created things to become more important than our desire for the Creator, we are bound to be disappointed.
In no way do I mean to diminish the importance of material things. God’s creation is good (see Gn 1:31) and many of our desires are also good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2535). The Lord knows our needs, and wants what is best for us. But it’s easy to get our priorities out of balance, especially as a result of envy and greed. As the Catechism reminds us: “Our thirst for another’s goods is immense, infinite, never quenched. Thus it is written: ‘He who loves money never has money enough’” (No. 2536).
How can we develop an attitude toward money and possessions that will lead to true happiness? The Church’s teaching on being a steward of Providence is just what our culture needs to foster a godly and balanced sensibility toward money. Here are a few steps you can take to have confidence that you are using the gifts and re-sources the Lord has entrusted to you in ways pleasing to him:
- Keep the Lord first in your life. Develop a daily spiritual plan. If you don’t know how to get started on such a plan, email me at email@example.com and I’ll send you a free sample.
- Ask Christ to be in the center of your marriage. Be on the same financial page as your spouse.
- Be generous with the Church so she has what she needs for divine worship; with the many ministries that help meet the spiritual and temporal needs of others; and with those less fortunate than you.
- Create a spending plan that emphasizes making a difference over the long run. Focus on relationships, Catholic education and family memories — all of these are important.
- Take your responsibility to create wealth seriously. Pope Benedict XVI once said we have an “inescapable duty to create wealth.”
- Use debt wisely and cautiously. Understand the difference between productive and unproductive debt.
- Scripture and the Catechism are full of wisdom for managing our money well and in ways that lead to long-lasting happiness. God love you!
Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.