Is Happiness a Commodity in Today’s Society?

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

Throughout the evolution of American culture, the collective definition of happiness has seen massive changes. Money did not always play a substantial role in obtaining happiness in the daily life of an American, especially before the rise of the economy, but what about today? We live in a thriving, globalized economy that caters to, when relative, financial well-being plays a role in dictating personal choices for the sake of attaining happiness. To say that happiness should be likened to a commodity from the get go is pure madness, so first the definition must be defined by the perception of today’s society.  

“Money won’t buy you happiness,” many will hear and accept this cliché as a guideline that may shape their career aspirations or their financial decision making. While it is true that money is not needed to experience happiness and living lavishly (as the quote above implies) will not always secure long-term happiness. How often in our society does the contrary hold true? It may be surprising to admit, but much of the average individual’s happiness depends on financial transactions. Planning a week long trip in the Caribbean, upgrading your phone every year or every other year or even paying someone to cut another’s lawn are all common examples of how money will buy happiness. Among all of the choices people  make to be happy, there are as many, if not more, examples of happiness that is bought rather than happiness that is created without money.

Perhaps the greatest concern for people is not how to obtain happiness, but how to manage time. The pressures of life— school, work, family, and expenses among many other obligations— slowly chew away at the average human being’s time, leaving very little to be happy.  A recent study suggests that people tend to favor buying time over purchases that directly buy happiness. Not only does this imply that people still buy happiness but it also implies the nature of today’s culture and economy. That Americans are stuck in a fast-paced (lacking control over time management) and materialistic (the way to happiness is money) lifestyle where we are encouraged to use our money to buy happiness.

Perhaps the extent to which materialism drives the average American’s life is debatable, but is it incorrect to say that materialism—the interchange of money for happiness—is a ubiquitous attribute that contributes to the typical American’s decision-making and even moral framework? While there is no study that proves that Americans primarily depend on financial transactions for happiness, the culture’s heavy-spending, materialistic tendencies infer the strong appeal of using money for satisfaction.  After all the “American Dream”, the cultural embodiment of happiness and prosperity, always implied making good money and being happy.

In what manner can humans speak of happiness as a commodity when a commodity is a resource that is exchangeable in the market for financial compensation, such as oil, wheat, or poultry?  Happiness, being an intangible, subjective form of emotion, cannot be thought of as a commodity in the traditional sense, but if one was to propose that happiness can be likened to a raw quality in commodities that also happens to be scarce in the sense that it is not easily produced without a price in the materialistic culture. Perhaps happiness can be considered as a commodity because of the cultural tendencies.

Through a slightly different lens, the idea of happiness being a commodity can also be homologous to the idea of money being inseparable with happiness in a consumerist culture. A materialistic lifestyle that is dependent by constant purchasing to attain happiness is a lifestyle where happiness becomes the most prevalent quality in the commodities that one seeks. If that is the case, does the inseparable attachment between money and happiness imply that happiness-invoking items constitute the working definition of happiness within the framework of this lifestyle, which would imply that happiness is indirectly a commodity?

Moreover, happiness does not need to come out of the dirt or have a flavor to be a commodity. Rather, it is involved as an inherent quality in goods and services (that utilize commodities) that can be considered indirectly as a commodity.