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Britney’s Antics Spark the Question: Would $100 Million Make Me Happier?

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I went out for breakfast on a recent Sunday. At the way to our table, we stopped suddenly in front of a muted television. Britney Spears had shaved her head.

The closed-caption dialogue from the news report scrolled across the bottom of the screen. The hair stylist was saying she tried to talk the pop star out of the new style.

Later on in the meal, I stole another glance at CNN, which had cycled back to Britney. The scroll said her estimated net worth was $100 million.

“Wow,” I said, as I reached across the table to cut pancakes into toddler-sized bites. “She is so rich … and so unhappy.”

“I can’t feel too sorry for anyone worth $100 million,” my husband responded.

Which got me thinking: Would I be happier if I were worth $100 million? It does sound nice. Vacation homes at the beach and on the ski slopes. Maids and gardeners to do all the dirty work. Working only when in the mood. Not to mention all the shoes!

But look at Britney. The entire world has watched her life spiral into the most depressing, pathetic place imaginable—even while Forbes magazine was busy ranking her one of the twenty richest women in entertainment.

I don’t think we need a detailed recap of her very public embarrassments. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve seen at least some of the extensive press coverage—the night out when cameras captured her without underwear, the time she was driving and holding her young son in her lap, the 24-hour stint in rehab, the head shaving, the quickie marriage in Vegas followed by the slightly longer marriage to Kevin Federline, the ugly divorce from Federline, the latest temper tantrum in front of Federline’s apartment, captured by the paparazzi.

Suffice it to say, she doesn’t seem like a happy woman.

I am hardly the first one to ask: Does money equal happiness? The question has in fact sparked plenty of serious research through the years. A handful of happiness experts authored a story for Science magazine last year on this issue. A couple of their findings:

•    Money does make you happier, if it lifts you out of poverty. However, there are diminishing returns after that. Those with family incomes over $90,000 were nearly twice as likely to report being “very happy” as those with incomes below $20,000. However, there is hardly any difference between those in the highest income group and those in the $50,000 to $89,000 bracket.

•    There are several reasons more money doesn’t make you happier. First, relative income impacts happiness more than actual income. So, if you get promoted at work and move into a fancier neighborhood, your new peers (at work and socially) are as likely to have as much or more than you do. Therefore, you don’t feel any richer and aren’t any happier. Second, people get used to material goods quickly, so the happiness generated by a new car, for instance, is fleeting. Finally, an increase in income doesn’t usually equal a shift in time toward doing more fun stuff. In fact, people with big jobs tend to spend more time working, commuting, and participating in obligatory networking activities.

So money isn’t the answer. I guess Britney could have told us that. Other research I read offers tips on how people can make themselves happier. One is to make changes necessary to reduce a long commute, something that consistently makes people unhappy. Second, spend more time with friends. Finally, take time each day to be grateful for what you have. Maybe even write it down. This ritual will help you focus less on what you want, if only you had just a little more money.

Okay, so (wait, let me grab my journal!) here goes. I am grateful for an income that puts my family above the poverty line, if slightly below Britney’s tax bracket. I am grateful that I can go out to breakfast on Sundays with my family. We like Goldberg’s in Atlanta—not as fancy as the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles, where Britney reportedly has been hanging out poolside in a blonde wig, but pretty tasty. And I am grateful for lots of other stuff I won’t bore you with here.

I guess I need to get over the dream of multiple vacation homes and the gardener and all the fine shoes. Turns out, those things wouldn’t make me happy anyhow…


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