Have you ever read "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence? It's a short story about a boy named Paul who wants to prove to his mother that he's lucky because she once told him that only lucky people make a lot of money, and the green paper is something mama bear never has enough of. One day, Paul discovers that if he rides his rocking-horse long enough, the name of the winning horse at the track will appear on his tongue. With the help of the family gardener, Paul begins placing bets and starts winning big. However, Paul's lucky streak proves to be detrimental as his mental and physical health decline, all the while the family's house continues to whisper, "There must be more money!"
We've been asking this question for a long time so, let's examine it again: can money really buy happiness?
"The Rocking-Horse Winner" surely classifies as a parable. Chase money relentlessly enough and you're likely to lose your mind. The first time I read this story, I immediately thought of my mom. That's not to say that she's superficial or greedy or would risk something as serious as her children's health to gain wealth. But money has always been a word I've wished to hear less of. Still, I respected what money represented when my mother spoke of it. It symbolized economic independence and self-sufficiency. It meant not having to worry about how you would make the next mortgage payment when you were laid-off. It was motivation to push your kids to strive for more so you never found them struggling like you did. I get it. I respect it. I even admire it to an extent. This has a lot to do with the immigrant drive. The beasts that wade through quicksand but calmly push through until they reach solid ground. What's not to commend? But my question is, when does the need for money morph into an obsession? Is there ever enough money?
There's that well-known Princeton University study conducted in 2010 that says money can in fact buy happiness, but only if you make up to $75,000 annually. Your happiness doesn't increase if you make more but the lower you fall on the pay ladder, the less happier you are, researchers determined. So what happens to the people who have reached that number but keep pushing themselves further anyway? My concern is for the people who have been breaking their backs for 10, 20, 30 years that the hustle has become an extension of them. They're chasing a high that can never be reached because the price of living keeps going up and even though they have enough, it never feels like it. The bank accounts are never full enough. The losses far surpassing our profits. What is one to do?
I got into an argument with my mom regarding this today. She's 57 and has been breaking her back since she was in her mid-20s. She told me that she wasn't happy but she also wasn't unhappy. Outside of visiting family in India, (the last time was over 10 years ago) she has never taken a vacation. She hasn't been to a museum in over 30 years. Has never been to Navy Pier. Has never ridden a bike down a peaceful trail that stretches for miles. She has never roller-bladed or tried ice-skating. She's never ventured out to have lunch on her own where she overpaid for a salad only to regret it later. She has so many silver hairs now that she can no longer maim them like she used to when there were just a few. When will be her time to be happy?
I've often wondered what my mom's life would have been like if she wasn't left with nothing after her divorce from my scumbag dad. Would she still have spent her days never feeling like she had enough to support us even when she did? Did she feel the need to compensate for his absence with enough to help my sister and me through life?
I'm not disparaging people like my mom, people who did what they had to to survive and feel even the smallest sense of security. I admire them. But being surrounded by the whispers of "There must be more money" has made me reluctant to have more than I need. For someone with an advanced degree, I make significantly less than I should but enough to pay my bills and still enjoy my life a bit. I'm 29 and I know what the Pacific feels like in March when I dip my toes in it. I know how bad it burns your nose to mistake wasabi for guac. I know what it's like to have enough spare time to read 57 books in a year.
We know that money can't buy every experience.
It can't buy you friends and their genuine affections.
It can't buy real love...(no, finding your partner on a paid eharmony subscription doesn't count).
And it most certainly cannot buy you time.
So what price do we end up paying when we chase after money?
D.H. Lawrence may have been on to something back in 1926.
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