April 15, 2020 in Sociology
Does Wealth Ultimately Make One Happy?

Material goods in general and money in particular have a special – quite specific – impact on people and the society. If they are used correctly, they may affect the whole structure of social relationships and can change the entire system of social interaction. Conversely, if this force is used for selfish or foolish goals, or is applied without knowledge of its application, it is possible to condemn the society for a constant struggle for survival. If wealth has such a strong influence on the society, then it has a similar effect on a person. Thus, the whole idea of the influence of wealth on the person should be discussed.

In order to answer the question whether wealth ultimately makes one happy, the meaning of happiness should be defined and the category of wealth should be determined. The question of what happiness is and what it means to be happy has a long history of exploration. The understanding of such a complicated category as happiness is faced with the numerous ways of its explanation. Some of them are based on the phenomenon of a person’s spiritual life, values and worldview. Some other are faced with the fact that the word “happiness” is used in everyday life in a variety of meanings. The concept of happiness for each person is perceived individually. For one, happiness seems to be a virtue, for some others – reasonableness, for still others – it is the way of wisdom. For someone happiness is a combination of previous ideas, but for others, it is somehow related to pleasure. However, there are those who add the concept of happiness to the concept of wealth. Analyzing the different opinions of people about the concept of happiness, it can be assumed that for the majority, happiness lies in something evidenced and obvious: in luck, pleasure, honor, wealth, etc. Thus, happiness can be explained as the same thing as well-being and a good life. However, real human happiness is contradictory in its nature. It harmoniously combines the satisfaction and dissatisfaction, as the process of happiness can be felt only through the constant interchange between dissatisfaction and satisfaction. If life were a continuous chain of pleasure, with an absolute lack of displeasure, then pleasure itself would not have been felt as pleasure, as it would have been a normal state.

Type of your assignment
Academic level

Philosophical interpretation of the concept of wealth has arisen at the dawn of the philosophical knowledge. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato defined wealth as property, which is enough for a happy life; an abundance of resources, aimed at strengthening happiness. Plato considered the category of wealth in the context of the following issues. First, wealth is an expression of the amount of personal property. Wealth evaluation depends even on the way in which it has been received. Second, wealth is based on the bipolar concept of its nature. Plato’s ideas lead to the understanding that wealth can be a basis for a virtuous life and a result of gluttony and of depravity of human nature. Third, the ethical coloring of the category of wealth is achieved only when it is in contact with the human nature. The wealth itself is inherently neutral: it is neither good nor bad. Thus, Plato provides an important idea that a rich person cannot be happy. A person that has an abundance of money constantly suffers from the weight of such a status. In this regard, even hoarding is considered by Plato as unvirtuous wealth. Virtuous wealth, according to Plato’s philosophy, is something that is under a strict control of the mind. Plato’s thesis that a rich man cannot be happy, affected the Christian philosophy in later years.

The weakening of interest in the natural, material side of the world had resulted in the fact that wealth was no longer regarded as a phenomenon, and philosophical thought focused only on its interpretation. Boethius, in his “Consolation of Philosophy” considered wealth from the perspective of theocentric view on the world, and as a result – has heavily demonized it. Boethius grounded his interpretation by putting the understanding of absolute and relative moments associated with this concept. The main thesis is that wealth, as a phenomenon, is combined with the human world and is a relative concept. He argues that wealth is a resource that could be the subject of trade or could be cut off, estranged, or stolen. Therefore, through the prism of wealth categories, the new socio-economic base of the medieval society becomes visible. Firstly, the very medieval society is built on the wealth remaining from the great Roman Empire. Second, in contrast to the ancient world, where the slaves did not have their own property, the medieval people had such an option. Thus, the mechanisms of the development of civilization are related to the economic factors, which are based on the possibility of transfer of ownership from one person to another. Plato could not even imagine the idea that his property, as the one that belongs to a citizen, can be taken away. However, both, Plato and Boethius consider that wealth is the anchor for the person in the material world, and therefore a rich man cannot be happy. The difference in their positions is that Plato perceives wealth as a mechanism of approaching happiness by the human, and Boethius sees wealth not as a blessing, but as a source of lies and evil.

The popular philosopher and theologian, who formulated five proofs of the existence of God, Thomas Aquinas explained that the division of people into different professions is based firstly, on the divine providence, which divided people on strata, and secondly, on natural causes, which determine the propensity of different people in different professions. Thus, the differences in the sphere of work affect the human dignity that interacts with a particular estate, in other words, with their position in the social hierarchy. According to the theory of Thomas Aquinas, wealth does not contain anything reprehensible. It has only everything necessary to be observed with some moderation. In contrast to the early church leaders, who saw the violent and looting nature in private property, Aquinas recognized private property as a “completion” of the natural law introduced by “human mind”. Aquinas noticed that as a man is naked by his nature, and the clothes are the result of his own invention, the right to private property is not given by nature, but by the human mind itself. It is based on it and therefore it has become an inherent institute of human life. According to his theory of the property, Aquinas proceeded from the premise that the innate inequality manifests itself in the society as the inequality in property. Considering private property as a punishment for original sin, Aquinas thought that for the human life on earth it is legitimate and necessary. According to his theory, the property is an interaction between a person and the external world. It consists of two elements: management and use. Moreover, the control function is the privilege of only a few selected individuals. It is not only honorable, but also requires knowledge. This meant that the division of the lord and serf is an order stemming from divine providence. Aquinas believed that ownership of property is not contrary to “natural law”, the will of God, but is an addition to the “natural law”, invented by man. Thus, Aquinas believed that the poor do not have to revolt against such an ownership, as the control over things exists only temporarily in the short term of human life. The use, as another form of human’s interaction with the world, is characterized by Thomas Aquinas as a denial of ownership. The human consumes resources not as private, but as common. That is why they have to be shared with others according to their needs. On the other hand, Aquinas argues that wealth cannot bring real happiness, because in order to gather wealth a person has to suffer. Thus, true happiness is achieved by people through serving to God. Therefore, the discussion should be returned to an understanding of the word happiness. Interpretation of this term by Thomas Aquinas is similar to the concept of grace as a special gift to a person from God, which is provided exclusively by the mercy of God. As a result, Aquinas argues that one should not perceive wealth as their property; they must perceive it as if it were a common property. It should be fairly distributed among those, who are in need. On the other hand, he argues that a happy person does not need friends to make benefit from that, as this person is self-realized. He/she does not need friends who will admire him/her and would prey on him/her, because he/she has spent his/her life in true honor. For a happy person, friends are needed for doing some good deeds to them. In other words, a happy person already has wealth and self-realization, and therefore is already happy. As a result, he/she wants to share happiness with others by doing good deeds. Thus, analyzing the concept of Aquinas about the wealth and its relation to happiness, it should be mentioned that his views are contradictory by their nature. On the one hand, he admits that wealth can make someone happy, but on the other, he admits the dominance of the Christian values over the material world. As a result, his views should be perceived without the religious background.

In the 18-19 century there appeared a situation in the economy and industry, social and domestic spheres that actualized the anthropological aspect in the study of wealth and happiness and still exists today. Human life is not a simple act of self-destruction; it is always an act of creation, recreation, and deployment of life, which means a person’s concentration on him/herself as the problem. The solution to this problem originates from the philosophy of life. A. Schopenhauer, the creator of this philosophical movement, provided the society with a vision of the person’s happiness and enjoyment as a subjective side of its nature, which is much more important than substantial objective. However, the philosopher in these reflections uses his own opinion, based on his understanding of the advantages of education of the mind and spirit and not taking into account that the worldview of other people is quite different. He regretted that he tirelessly worked from early morning to late night for the accumulation of wealth, which makes the highest spiritual pleasure inaccessible for such people, because their worldview is narrow and limited, while their spirit is empty. Thus, Schopenhauer argues that the first manifestation of happiness is longevity, the second one is wealth, the third one is the health of body and peace of mind, the fourth one is love and chastity and the fifth is the quiet death after saturated life. In other words, wealth makes people happy, because it is an important and sufficient resource for spiritual development. However, too much wealth makes one unhappy because of the limitation of his/her abilities for the accumulation of that wealth.

My position on this issue is similar to the position of Schopenhauer, and is based on the theory of needs by A. Maslow. Human world is extremely complex in its structure of interactions within the society. In order to have the time for determining one’s path to happiness, a person must first solve the problem of his/her survival. Hungry people will not be happy, because happiness cannot be attributed to the constant suffering. All the philosophers from Antiquity, Medieval Times and Renaissance have gained wealth. Whether it is wealth that is provided by the policy to its citizens, wealth of the member of a closed religious organization, which controls most of the civilized world, as it was with Thomas Aquinas, or philosophers of the New Age who were born in the noble or rich enough families, they all talked about happiness and wealth, considering the exaggerated poles of these concepts. Moderate wealth of the middle class is able to make people happy, because it provides one with the opportunities for further self-development, research and personal fulfillment in the world. However, the main thing is that these features are inherited. People who have gained the moderated wealth are starting to direct their wealth to the self-realization and eventually they understand that they receive immortality through their children. Moreover, they want to make their children happy as well. To do this, they give them the freedom and support, providing a chance not to fight for their own future, but to follow a straight road to it, the way that they have chosen themselves.

To conclude, it should be mentioned that the relation between wealth and happiness is still a subject of discussion and it would remain such for the whole history of humankind. The reason of such a statement lies in the development of human society. The worldview of antique philosophers was limited by the experience of the society they were living in. Thus, changes in the social structure and modernization of the society would make philosophers change their views on this problem.


Related essays