Money, Happiness, Wealth, and Meaning

The ultimate wellbeing culprit is neither money nor the pursuit of it, but whether or not you believe your life has meaning and purpose. And according to one vast, worldwide survey, the residents of wealthy countries rate their lives as less meaningful than those in poor countries.

One reason money doesn’t make us happy is the stress of making it. The following is from Plutocrats:  The Rise of the new Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, Chrystia Freeland (2012):

plutocrats“Until a few years ago, the reigning theory about money and happiness was the Easterlin paradox, the 1974 finding by Richard Easterlin that, beyond a relatively low threshold more money didn’t make you happier.

“But across countries, what millions of immigrants have always known to be true really is:  the people of rich countries are generally happier than the people of poor countries.

“The latest contrarian finding, however, is that moving to that state of greater wealth and greater happiness is decidedly unpleasant. As Angus Deaton, in a review of the 2006 Gallup World Poll, concluded, ‘Surprisingly, at any given level of income, economic growth is associated with lower reported levels of life satisfaction.’”

Freeland also cites Angus Deaton for showing that “the richer you are, the more covetous you become” — not a likely prescription for happiness.

A 2014 U of Virginia/ Gallup study weighed in with similar findings — Emily Esfahani Smith discussed them in The Power of Meaning:  Crafting a Life That Matters, (2017:

power of meaning“Though the study was enormous, involving nearly 140,000 people across 132 countries, it was also straightforward. A few years earlier, researchers from Gallup had asked respondents whether they were satisfied with their lives, and whether they felt their lives had an important purpose or meaning. [Prof. Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and Ed Diener of Gallup] analyzed that data by country, correlating the levels of happiness and meaning with variables like wealth, rates of suicides, and other social factors.

“Their findings were surprising. People in wealthier regions, like Scandinavia, reported being happier than those in poorer ones, like sub-Saharan Africa. But when it came to meaning, it was a different story. Wealthy places like France and Hong Kong had some of the lowest levels of meaning, while the poor nations of Togo and Niger had among the highest, even though people living there were some of the unhappiest in the study.

I.e., the ultimate wellbeing culprit is neither money nor the pursuit of it, but whether or not you believe your life has meaning and purpose. And according to this vast, worldwide survey, the residents of wealthy countries rate their lives as less meaningful than those in poor countries.

Analogizing from these findings to the legal profession, we would expect that, because the legal profession runs on the higher side of financial wellbeing, lawyers would report higher levels of happiness than less well-paid workers, but would also suffer from meaning malaise. And, since one of the wellbeing factors used in the survey was rates of suicide, we would also expect lawyers to have a correspondingly higher rate of suicide.

The high lawyer suicide rate (third highest among professionals, after doctors and dentists) has been well documented, and as we’ve been seeing, lawyers as a whole aren’t generally happy with their lives either, despite their profession’s higher rate of wealth.

We’ll look more into the meaning part of the equation next time.

Richard Easterlin is a professor of economics at USC. Sir Angus Stewart Deaton, FBA, is a British American economist and professor at Princeton. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.

For a summary of the UVA/Gallup study, see ScienceDaily, 18 December 2013:  “Residents of poorer nations find greater meaning in life.” For the original study, see S. Oishi, E. Diener, “Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents of Wealthy Nations,” Psychological Science, 2013

Can Money Buy Lawyer Happiness?

I thought the answer might be yes. I was wrong. Money doesn’t just fail to make lawyers happy, it actually makes them unhappy.

I thought the answer might be yes. Why? Because a few years back I blogged about the 2013 Colorado Supreme Court Lawyer Satisfaction and Salary Survey, which showed that, although 2/3’s of Colorado lawyers didn’t like their jobs enough to recommend them to someone else, at least they liked the money. And because a widely-cited study published the following year found that people in wealthier countries are happier than people in poorer countries. Put those two together, and maybe lawyers might say they’re happy overall, despite their job dissatisfaction.

I was wrong. I went several pages into the results of several Google searches and found nothing about happy lawyers or what makes them so. Happiness isn’t bad news, so maybe it doesn’t get reported, but still… why the long faces? More Google searches turned up a LegalCheek.com poll conducted in Great Britain the day after Theresa May gave the required notice of Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It reported that 70% of British lawyers weren’t happy about Brexit. But that doesn’t really count, does it?

the Happy LawyerThe Happy Lawyer:  Making a Good Life in the Law (2010) by law professors Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder had a promising title, but then, after an extensive review of the literature on lawyer happiness, the authors concluded that “[M]oney is the root of virtually everything that lawyers don’t like about their profession: the long hours, the commercialization, the tremendous pressure to attract and retain clients the fiercely competitive marketplace, the lack of collegiality and loyalty among partners, the poor public image of the profession, and even the lack of civility.”

So… money doesn’t just fail to make lawyers happy, it actually makes them unhappy. Hmmm.

Money certainly doesn’t make associates happy, even though 2016 saw their salaries leap to new heights — at least in the world of BigLaw. In fact, the position of associate attorney came in rock bottom in a 2013 CareerBliss survey of not just lawyers, but 65,000 employees of all kinds. Forbes, The Happiest And Unhappiest Jobs In America, March 22, 2013. (Here’s Above the Law’s take on that story.)

A couple years after the CareerBliss poll, the Dean of Pepperdine Law School countered that well, there at least some happy associates. Go ahead — guess who they were — answer below.

If money doesn’t make lawyers happy, then what does? Earlier this year, Global Financial (“Financing Justice”) reported survey results by Robert Half Legal that a business casual dress policy helps lawyers deal with stress. Not quite the same as making lawyers happy.

Seriously? Business casual is the best we can do?

the Anxious LawyerAn August 2016 Above the Law article had a promising title — Why Are Lawyers So Happy? — but it turned out to be a tongue-in-cheek response to an earlier article by Jeena Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer, all-around great person and reigning Goddess of Mindfulness in the Marketplace. (I’ve met Jeena, and she would be horrified at me giving her that title, but I do it with a smile, and besides, I think it’s true.) Both articles were written in response to a survey conducted by the ABA and the Betty Ford Foundation, which Forbes reported in an article whose title tells you everything you need to know:  Study Indicates Lawyers Struggling With Substance Use And Other Mental Health Issues, July 30, 2016.

No, money doesn’t buy lawyer happiness — according to pollsters anyway. Of course some lawyers are happy — with the money, their work, and maybe even life in general. I hope that’s you, and I hope you know lots of people like you. As for the rest, it’s hard to be happy about much of anything when you don’t like your work.

We’ll keep following the thread of money and happiness next time, to see what else we can learn from it. In the meantime, here’s your answer:  Who are the happiest associates?  Tax lawyers.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

I mean, all these famous (and mostly rich) people are entitled to their opinion,  but  we’d like to find out for ourselves if money could make us happy — we’re pretty sure we could handle it.

 

Can money buy happiness? Let’s ask some more famous people:

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.”

“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.”

Democritus

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.”

Benjamin Franklin

“It is my opinion that a man’s soul may be buried and perish under a dung-heap, or in a furrow field, just as well as under a pile of money.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old, I know that it is.”

Oscar Wilde

“Wealth is the ability to truly experience life.”

Henry David Thoreau

“He who loses money, loses much; he who loses a friend, loses much more; he who loses faith, loses all.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

“It’s a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money.”

Albert Camus

“I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”

 Mark Twain

“I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money.”

Pablo Picasso

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”

Woody Allen

“There are people who have money, and there are people who are rich.”

Coco Chanel

Thanks to Aol.finance for those quotes. They’re inconclusive, I’d say, although they do tell us that money brings out the inner philosopher and humorist in famous people. Maybe we should have asked Adam Smith:

“As I am reminded every year by my students, those who encounter Smith’s writings for the first time are usually quite surprised to learn that he associated happiness with tranquility—a lack of internal discord—and insisted not only that money can’t buy happiness but also that the pursuit of riches generally detracts from one’s happiness. He speaks, for instance, of ‘all that leisure, all that ease, all that careless security, which are forfeited forever’ when one attains great wealth, and of ‘all that toil, all that anxiety, all those mortifications which must be undergone’ in the pursuit of it. Happiness consists largely of tranquility, and there is little tranquility to be found in a life of toiling and striving to keep up with the Joneses.”

The Problem With Inequality, According to Adam Smith, The Atlantic, June 6, 2016, Dennis C. Rasmussen, professor of political science at Tufts University.

According to the “invisible hand” man himself, both pursuing and possessing wealth make you unhappy. Maybe, but most of us are with Clare Booth Luce,  Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus, Mark Twain, and Woody Allen — or with Tevye in his exchange with Perchik the Bolshevik:

Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.

Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!

I mean, all these famous (and mostly rich) people are entitled to their opinion,  but  we’d like to find out for ourselves if money could make us happy — we’re pretty sure we could handle it.

And for purposes of this blog, what we’d really like to know is whether money can buy lawyer happiness.

We’ll talk more about that next time.