Happy life – Does this require affluence?

happyWho wouldn’t be happy to have more money? To pay off the credit card or buy that needed furniture. Yet, the huge wealth of the ‘fat cats’ who run large companies in the UK has astonished us. By October 2011 the pay packages of directors of FTSE 100 companies had increased by 49% in a single year. The average figure had then become £2,697,644.

The total rewards of the chief executives of these companies were even higher. Forbes Magazine reported that the ratio of their income to that of the average UK employee rose from 45:1 in 1998 to 120:1 in 2010.

Some might wish them well in their good fortune. Who wouldn’t enjoy having a large yacht, a smart place to live, fast car, and no money worries?  But is it right to assume the happy life requires affluence? That having lots of money is the solution to common frustrations and stress?

Self-awarded rewards and the question of a happy life

In Britain politicians voting themselves high salary increases caused public disquiet. This soon turned to outrage when we discovered that many of them had been collaring small fortunes in expenses for themselves. All at a time when average living standards were being severely squeezed.

This desire for wealth is shown by a stitch up in the boardrooms as directors have awarded their own pay rises succumbing to the temptations of wealth.

We all thought that the shareholders own the company and determine who gets paid what. Also that the executives manage it to develop a more successful venture on a stable footing. But this seems to have changed. Companies have grown. Shareholders are now spread widely. Consequently, there has become a lack of external check on the pay of top managers.

happy‘The actual controllers of the company would cream off the profits into their own pockets, direct profitable business into other companies controlled by themselves, as well as award themselves magnificent salaries.’  (Ferdinand Mount, political commentator)

What has shocked us is the shameless way the top managers in numerous incidents have abused their power. They have taken more out of the company even when its performance has been at best mediocre. The same thing has happened in the large public bodies.

Pursuing an illusion of a happy life?

Grabbing huge pay rises, despite resulting social approbation, indicates a strong belief that wealth will make one happy. It is a common enough attitude. However, is seeking affluence actually the pursuit of an illusion? It would seem so. Study after study by psychologists has shown no association between wealth and happiness. The exceptions are where housing costs are a large proportion of income necessitating long working hours and cases of poverty when extra income does relieve hunger and suffering.

More startling still is research showing the pursuit of money is not only a mistake but also a dangerous one. Psychology professor Tim Kasser discovered that extremely rich people are not significantly happier than people on average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression.

Carolyn Gregoire, writing in The Huffington Post, quotes research that found that where both partners are materialistic, couples have a poorer quality of marital relationship. Also there are findings that students with higher materialistic values tend to have lower-quality relationships and feel less connected to others.

What then does lead to a happy life?

Researchers in positive psychology discovered that a real sense of personal well-being comes from good relationships, meaningful and challenging activities, and a sense of connection to something bigger than us – such as a religion, a political or social cause or a sense of mission.

All of us can hanker after money. According to transpersonal psychologist Steve Taylor, hardship does not drive the appetite for wealth and material goods. Instead, our inner discontent causes it. I would say a self-orientated inner state of mind creates this discontent. In other words what makes one happy is something non-materialistic- deep within one’s being.

Angelic state and the happy life

In his books, mystical writer Emanuel Swedenborg tries to put into words some of his limited experience of the happiness of what he terms an ‘angelic state’ of peace, contentment and joy. He says to be deeply happy involves several things.

  • A loving attitude towards other people. The highest form this takes is wanting to give what is one’s own to others.

Those who are moved by mutual love are constantly approaching the spring-time of their youth….. This process continues for ever, constantly bringing increases in joy and happiness.‘ (Emanuel Swedenborg)

  • Mindful involvement in the present moment. Neither being concerned about the past nor the future leads to happiness. In other words having genuine concern for someone draws us away from our bodily and worldly interests and lifts our mind to heaven and so we are pulled away from things that belong to time.
  • Freedom from feeling self-centered. Instead, of being led by one’s own wishes, happiness comes from identifying with one’s true Self. This means innocently trusting in something beyond one’s false self. It involves following thoughts in line with our image of what is supremely good. Swedenborg points out that this can only come from not falling for the illusion that one is separate and self-contained.

In line with this third point, I believe my good intentions and perceptive insights are not my own. Instead their spiritual Source inspires them into my heart and head..

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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