Happiness Essay #1

This is an essay that I wrote in WR121 during the Fall term of 2012 at Lane Community College.  It is in conversation with two different articles on happiness.

Here is a link to Steve Maich’s article, “Money Really Can Buy Happiness.”


Here is a link to Steven Reiss’s article, “Secrets of Happiness.”


The Truth Behind Happiness

            In his article, “Secrets of Happiness”, Steven Reiss argues that true happiness comes from our values rather than from pleasures we may associate with it.  He writes that there are two distinct types of happiness. Those are feel-good happiness and value-based happiness.

He defines value-based happiness as a spiritual satisfaction and a feeling of a larger purpose or meaning in life based upon one’s values, and that feel-good happiness is just a short-lived sensation-based pleasure feeling.

Reiss writes, in contrast to each other value-based happiness is better because it is long lasting and brings true happiness, and that feel-good happiness is weak in comparison because it is short lived and only felt for a few hours at a time.  He applies the rule of diminishing returns to feel-good happiness, which says that happy feelings or pleasures get harder and harder to come by.

Reiss, early in his article, shows that historically people have thought that pleasure was the root of happiness.  The ancient Greeks and Romans were pleasure theorists and believed that pleasure was actual happiness.  Socrates thought that possibly pleasure was good and that pain was evil in terms of morality.  Epicurus believed that happiness came from one’s ability to change his or her beliefs or attitudes to minimize their anxiety.  More modernly, Hugh Hefner used pleasure theory to explain the 60’s sexual revolution. He uses these examples to show that he found, through his own experience, that these pleasure theorists were wrong, and pleasure is not the key to true happiness.

Reiss also strengthens his argument by next using Malcolm X as an example of concrete evidence of both the feel-good and the value-based sides of happiness.  He says that he was a pleasure seeker early in life and shows this by telling how he was addicted to a life of partying, sex, and drugs.  Despite feeling a lot of pleasure he was in fact not happy with his life, because his lifestyle was inconsistent with his ideals and values.  After being arrested for burglary, he became devoted to Islam while in prison and started to live by his fundamental values.   Later on he became a civil rights leader, and in doing so he caused himself more anxiety and stress.  However, he was much happier because he was living life in line with his values.

Reiss then goes on to make examples by contrasting famous people such as: Al Gore and George W. Bush, Jackie Onassis Kennedy and Howard Hughes, and finally Regis Philbin and John F. Kennedy.  By doing this he shows that while they might have different values and desires in life they found happiness by living life by those values and achieving those desires.  All of these examples show evidence to strengthen Reiss’ central argument.

Reiss then goes on to talk about the sixteen basic desires and how people have different desires in life and how they can be happy by achieving those desires throughout their life.  He says that through spirituality and opening their heart to god people can deeply satisfy their desires.

Reiss then sums up his argument by saying that one can find happiness if they are: rich or poor, smart or dumb, athletic or not athletic, popular or unpopular.  He says that wealthy people are not necessarily any happier, and poor people are not necessarily unhappy because anyone can be happy if they live life by their values.

While Reiss’ central argument is that value-based happiness is true happiness, Steve Maich in his article, “Money Really Can Buy You Happiness”, puts a different spin on that same argument.  His argument is that even though people have been taught that money is not the key to happiness their whole lives, studies have shown that money does in fact have an impact on the happiness of people.

Maich argues that money does bring happiness, but it does not bring happiness from all the possessions and things that you can buy with that money.  He says that the happiness comes from the ability to eliminate the things in their life that cause stress, anxiety, and depression with that money.

Maich contrasts a few different authorities’ studies and findings showing both sides of the argument over the money vs. happiness concept.  He uses the 30 year study by economist Richard Easterlin as an example showing that while a groups income increased tenfold, their average happiness stayed the same.  He then draws on the authority of Cornell University Professor Robert Frank who says, in the United States, wealthier one is, the happier they are.  He also draws on many examples of people using the money for the short-term feel-good happiness after coming into a large sum of money.  He uses the examples of lottery winners striking it rich only to end up broke and depressed.  Those examples tell the tale of people that were not happy to begin with, using their new found fortune to try and buy their own happiness, ultimately ending in their failure.

He uses studies and authorities to show that over the past thirty years they have shown a definite link between wealth and happiness.  He talks about the link between wealthier countries being profoundly happier than poorer countries.  He draws on the authority of Swedish academic Johan Norberg who said that the happiest people on earth live in the wealthiest places on earth: North America, Northern Europe, and Australia.

Finally, at the end of his article Maich draws on the authority of Cornell Universities Robert Frank who says that when people use their increased wealth to buy monetary things that they do not become any happier, but if they use that wealth to buy their way out of stress causing situations in their life then they do become happier.  This strengthens Maich’s argument that money really can buy happiness by showing that a trusted authority in the academic field has the same beliefs as he does.

So while Reiss says that happiness comes from ones values, Maich shows that money can help one buy his or her freedom from things in life that take away from their time to devote themselves to those values.

Works Cited

Maich, Steve. “Money Really Can Buy Happiness.” Maclean’s 13 Feb. 2006: n. pag. SIRS Knowledge Source. Web. 29 Sept. 2011.

Reiss, Steven. “Secrets of Happiness.” Psychology Today Jan.-Feb. 2001: n. pag. SIRS Knowledge Source. Web. 27 Sept. 2011.


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