Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Money Can't Buy Me Love

Here’s a list of the world’s seven richest countries according to forbes.com.

The United States is number seven with a GDP (PPP) per capita of $46,860. Norway is number four with a GDP (PPP) per capita of $51,959. Qatar is number one with a GDP (PPP) per capita of $88,222.

But money can’t buy me love, right?

A very rich man, Sir Paul McCartney penned that song.

According to this article, Norway is the world’s happiest country. The U.N.’s Human Development Index which “measures happiness in different countries based on factors such as income, education, health, life expectancy, economy, gender equality and sustainability” places Norway at the top of the list, the United States at number four, and Qatar at number thirty-seven.

I’m not planning on learning Norwegian just yet. It sounds like a lovely country, but I understand that happiness is relative. I definitely think the Human Development Index is a better way to measure a country’s well being than simply looking at the GDP, but I don’t agree that you can conclude that measuring just income, education, health, life expectancy, economy, gender equality and sustainability gives you an assessment of a country’s happiness. Or that an entire country of people can ever be said to be happy. Happy is not a character trait. Happiness is an emotion that all humans experience periodically. Hopefully every day. If not, something needs to change. But does that change need to be spare change or can people still manage to experience happiness without a lot of money?

Some friends of mine were recently poking fun of Appalachian folks during a discussion about what policies we’d support to counter the crisis of Mountain Dew Mouth hitting that region. Making comments about how they should quit their mining jobs, get a CDL and a truck and get the hell outta there.

I've never been to Appalachia, although I would love to visit. My ex-girlfriend’s mom is from West Virginia. From what I hear, Appalachia is a beautiful area. Snooty folks I hang with make fun of mountain people, but really, are they so stupid to stay put in such a beautiful environment? Yes, there's the abject poverty and the environmental degradation from mining. But who are we to judge that our lives are so much better? Because we have a bigger house and drink coffee instead of Mountain Dew? When I step outside here in the Midwest, I don't see beautiful scenery, just pavement and flat lands. I think poverty of nature is something affluent suburbanites and urbanites should consider before they start passing judgment on so-called hillbillies.

A few years ago my dad and I were having lunch together at our favorite Chinese restaurant. He was telling me about how his stepson at the time had just built a million dollar house in New Mexico. I joked that I had just been bragging about renting my first apartment that had a washer and dryer hookup.

“You’re probably happier than he is.”

I choked on my crab rangoon. I was dumbfounded. What happened to my dad? When did he shrug off his materialism for this new philosophical outlook? My dad, the retired accountant who called me stupid for taking a job at the library in my early twenties since it would mean I’d never make any money. My dad, the newlywed who freely admitted to me that he loved my step-mother’s money and all the traveling and swanky retirement living they could do. My dad, who years later would call asking for help packing to get the hell out of my step-mother’s house when he came to the realization that no amount of money was worth putting up with such an unkind, self-centered, ignorant person.

Of course, if someone in one of the lowest-raking countries on these two lists read my blog post they’d surely think only a person who doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal is coming from is capable of believing such nonsense.

As with most things in life, balance is the key. Having too much money robs the soul, but having too little money stresses the body. I get anxious when my car breaks down and we don’t have enough money in our checking account to fix it. But I try to keep my thinking in perspective while walking the ten blocks to work. It’s our family’s second car, not our sole mode of transportation. And walking is healthy for my body anyway. Sure, I can’t sit on my ass all morning blogging, then hop in the shower and drive to work in two minutes like normal. I have to actually plan ahead, check the weather to see if I need a coat or an umbrella, give myself fifteen minutes to walk to work. Someone call the wambulance. My life is so hard.

I don’t know how much we can learn from lists of rich and happy countries. All I know is the birds’ chirps have been quite enjoyable on my walk to work this week. But I also know as soon as we get the extra money to fix my car, I’ll be back to listening to Cee-lo singing from my car stereo, feeling confident that extra fifteen minutes spent revising my blog post before heading to work was worth it. Not discombobulated and rough like this post.