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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happiness vs Goodness: The Frugal Connection

Since the economic meltdown, I find myself perusing the online Wall Street Journal. Although I have a good handle on the very micro-economics that is my family budget, anything more macro than that is pretty mysterious to me, never having had an economics course. So I find myself drifting away from economic news, and reading things like book reviews.

Hence it was that I saw this review of Seven Pleasures: An Essay on Ordinary Happiness by Willard Spiegelman. It may be my imagination, but there has been a spate of writing on similar topics. Even one of the laid-off former kings of Wall Street had a blog post titled something along the lines of "money doesn't matter." Spiegelman's pleasures are reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming and writing. Hmmmm. Mr FS and I really need to learn to dance. Otherwise, this is our lineup, with the addition of gardening for Mr. FS.

What I wonder, however, is whether these give everyone happiness? If so, being frugal wouldn't be very difficult, because these are all frugal pleasures.

I read another book review last week on parenting. I can no longer locate it (help if you can.) The gist of the two books under review is that parents of my generation have messed up our kids by having the goal of promoting happiness rather than promoting goodness. Happiness is defined in material terms. I think I may be less guilty of this than many. But I wonder what came first: my frugality or my belief that goodness is more important than material happiness.

This book review also reminded me of a common sentiment of many bloggers and blog commenters. Often, comments about giving up material pleasures now in order to save for a future goal are met with responses like "What if you die? I want to be happy now." And even frugal bloggers often enumerate their purchases. (I have done this myself on occasion).

Once again, I am lucky. But still I wonder if I am so frugal that I promoted goodness only because it coincided with my frugal nature.

So, Dear Readers. I know this is somewhat "out of joint" (quotation courtesy of Hamlet): what think you of the relationship between happiness and goodness? And kids?


sallymandy said...

Frugal: I like how you end your posts with a question, like the teacher you are.

I don't think goodness and happiness are exclusive. I have some wealthy friends who are also "good." They live with much less than their unbelievably rich forebears.

Seeking happiness in stuff clearly isn't the right approach, but neither is romanticizing "no-stuff." I believe the key is being mindful. I certainly don't have this skill mastered. Mindless stuff-acquisition is just numbing and dehumanizing, but thoughtful and clear acquisition can really enhance creativity, learning, expression, and expansion of the human experience. That's my vision, which I try to improve in myself.

As for parenting, geez. No one's an expert, so I've gone from a parent who read every book I could find to one who rarely reads other people's opinions on it. Who's to say those authors on the NYT Review didn't just write what would sell? I tend to like Dr. Spock, who said to trust our instincts. Beyond that, cleaning up the way I live myself to present the best example I can...that's all I know to do.

Thoughtful post as usual! Thank you...

Funny about Money said...

Brings to mind the dyad that floats around the perimeter of my consciousness: happiness/contentment. It's possible to be happy (as a result of some momentary fun or acquisition), but that's different from being content (i.e., secure in your personal sense of well being or self-confidence or acceptance of your life as it is). Happiness is a fleeting thing; contentment is there for the long term.

Given the constant bombardment of commercial messages urging people to buy, buy, and then buy some more, it's pretty hard to teach children that real happiness (that is, contentment) stems from something other than owning stuff, much less that contentment is a moral choice. Which is what it is, if you accept that contentment stems from recognizing "goodness" as a key value in what makes life itself good. It's a subtle message easily overwhelmed by the flood of unsubtle messages kids get from every direction.

I think about the best a parent can do is model behavior around these concepts. Children learn by watching what you do, maybe better than they do by listening to what you tell them. Can't hurt to try to tell them, too, though....

Duchesse said...

"Goodness" and "happiness" are abstract notions defined by each person, just like "beauty" or "truth". Each person is well-served by making a personal examination of what is good, and what contributes not only to one's individual happiness, but to that of all, because we are all connected.

We reared our children, who are now 22 (twins) without TV because (among other reasons) we were sickened by the continual bombardment of messages to "buy". So we have ended up with sons who are fully aware of brands and stuff, but not hooked on them.

No, we did not produce two little Albert Schweitzers (so far). But they are interesting people with pretty good BS meters.

I recommend the book "Contentment: A Way to True Happiness" by Robert A. Johnson , a Jungian analyst and Jerry M. Ruhl, a psychotherapist. 115 small pages, very wise.

This is a wonderful post, asking the deep and substantial questions, and I thnak you for it.

SLF said...

Mama, the article you are referring to can be found here:

-- Frugal Son

Frugal Scholar said...

@sallymandy--I always look forward to your comments. I hope others are reading them.

The same goes for Funny and Duchesse--I really need to move these into the body of a post. They are so great.

And hi to my Frugal Son! thanks for finding that (why did I have such trouble).