Money is human happiness in the abstract. – Schopenhauer
What does that mean?
The longer version of the quote (included at the bottom of the post) goes on to state that once one can no longer be happy, in concrete form, the person will focus solely on money.
Happiness comes to humans in many forms. A pleasant day, a warm smile from a friend, or the scent of your favorite food hanging in the air.
Money can buy one of those three examples. But when you no longer care about the weather, have alienated all your friends, and can no longer truly enjoy food, art or music, to what do you turn?
Money is the abstract form of happiness, in that when you have enough money, you can buy many things to make you happy. But focusing on the money, and not the happiness all around us, can be problematic.
Why is concrete happiness important?
While it is true that money cannot buy true happiness, it can be useful for getting a moment of it here and there, from time to time. In this manner, money is actually an abstract of it, something which can be exchanged for a form of it on a short-term basis. But that form is only temporary.
The more concrete types of happiness are much longer lasting and more satisfying. Relationships with other people is one of the deeper and longest lasting of the ways we can find it in our lives. Others include an appreciation of various art forms, from sculpture and painting to music and singing.
Even if you aren’t producing something, many people find happiness and even joy with their favorite music, or looking at their favorite artwork. Others find it in doing things, even small things, usually for the benefit of others. From fixing things to making items as gifts or for sale, great happiness can be found in such activity.
These are some of the many forms of happiness that exist in concrete form in our lives. We all have our own favorite activities, and those from which we just don’t get any. Focusing on the here and now, and the real, concrete forms of happiness is vastly superior to the quick-fix version of it which money buys for us.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Flitting from one temporary happiness to the next isn’t a terribly useful way to live a life, at least not in my opinion. Consider the bar-hopper lifestyle. If there is real connection between the people outside the bar, it’s not that bad. But what about the people who go to the bar to buy happiness in a drink? Or those who try to buy friendship by buying drinks for others.
How satisfying is it when they get up the next day? What happiness do they have to look forward to that day? Or are they focused on surviving until they can get to the bar again? The same can be said for any of the other forms of the party-centric lifestyle, when taken to excess, and when they just aren’t very happy outside their party life.
So the question is how much concrete happiness do you have in your life? What do you like to do, what brings you happiness and joy? What have you kept and what have you let slip away? What do you enjoy, and what are you willing to put in to attain that? Do you like to run, ski, swim, or hike? Or is a good book and a fireplace more your preference?
Please understand that I’m not condemning anyone who has uses money to be happy in the short-term. I’m a gadget freak and love high-tech toys. I like to buy some from time to time, just to play with them, even though they have no real long-term value. That includes a recent purchase of an Infra-Red camera. Neat toy, but not a form of lasting happiness or even usefulness.
My concern is the balance in a person’s life, or the lack of balance. When we start to withdraw from the concrete and begin to rely too heavily on what can be purchased by money, we approach the danger of becoming the second half of the quote. That is becoming the person who devotes their heart entirely to money, as both a means and an end.
How well balanced is your life? Where can you find joy from your past or even your childhood? What friends have you let wander out of your life? Is there a group online for your High School class, or your old neighborhood? Can you use social media to find and connect with old friends, and rekindle the happiness you once shared with them?
It is up to us, as individuals, to maintain our own happiness. Being happy is a decision we make, and we can reinforce it by humming our favorite song as the world rains on our parade. We can focus on what we have and be happy, or on what we do not have, and be otherwise. Whether it’s music, art or favorite memories, we can reinforce our it when we choose.
Our lives are full of choices. What will you choose, and how do you plan to reinforce it?
The full quote:
Money is human happiness in the abstract: he, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete devotes his heart entirely to money.