This author makes the following point: giving people money they did not earn, either through the lottery, or through endless entitlements, makes people unhappy.
(Note to readers: we can all agree that temporarily giving people money so they don’t starve or so they can keep the lights on — the types of programs carried out by the Church — are not what is being discussed here. We are instead discussing a lifestyle of endless entitlements or earning money without working for it. It is worth pointing out that Church aid very often involves asking people to work for the money they receive.)
From the article:
But hitting the jackpot generally leads to unhappiness. A famous 1978 study of major lottery winners in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that while the winners experienced an immediate happiness boost right after winning, it didn’t last. Within a few months, their happiness levels receded to where they had been before winning. As time passed, they found they were actually less happy than they had been before winning.
Does this suggest that money makes us unhappy? Not at all. There is a huge amount of research showing that money, when earned, has a generally positive association with happiness. The problem is when it is unearned, when raw purchasing power is untethered from hard work and merit. Above basic subsistence, happiness comes not from money per se, but from the value creation it is rewarding.
More from the article:
The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey reveals that people are twice as likely to feel “very happy” about their lives if they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” at work, rather than “somewhat successful.” The differences persist whether they earn more or less income.
Entrepreneurs of all types rate their well-being higher than do members of all other professional groups in America, according to years of polling by the Gallup organization. And it’s not because of the money. The employment website CareerBuilder.com reported in 2011 that small business owners made 19% less per year than government managers.
While earned success facilitates the pursuit of happiness, unearned transfers generally impede it. According to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, going on the welfare rolls increases by 16% the likelihood of a person saying he or she has felt inconsolably sad over the past month (even after controlling for poverty and unemployment). A study by economist John Ifcher at Santa Clara University shows that single mothers who were required by the 1990s welfare reform to work for their benefits—and therefore lost leisure time, had to find child care and the like—were still significantly happier about their lives after the reforms than before.
All this data relates to our policy debates because every year, fewer and fewer people earn their way in America without a government subsidy. As my colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has written, entitlements have doubled as a percentage of the ballooning federal budget since 1960. Today, more than half of American households receive government transfer benefits.
And this isn’t just a case of senior citizens taking the Social Security they have paid for. Unearned transfers are exploding. Consider that the number of Americans receiving disability benefits has increased almost 20-fold since 1960, to 8.6 million today from 455,000. The Tax Foundation notes that nearly 70% of Americans now take more out of the tax system than they pay into it.
It is a simple fact that the United States is becoming an entitlement state. The problem with this is not just that it is bankrupting the country. It is that the entitlement state is impoverishing the lives of the growing millions dependent on unearned resources. The good news is that we have a golden opportunity to rein in entitlements, for the first time in many years.
This point of view seems to me completely compatible with the Gospel.
The Lord says: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39). When I first read this scripture, it became clear to me that eternal life is not about sitting on a cloud playing a harp (the vision that many people have of heaven) but instead about constant positive action.
There is no doubt that many people work at things they consider a complete waste of time, just as many people have callings in Church they do not like. But even the most menial tasks often can teach us things, just as the callings we don’t like are the ones where we often discover we learned something positive.
This is one of the primary points of the Gospel: it is about action, about doing something to help improve yourself and your family and your fellow man. This is what brings us joy. Is it any wonder that entitlements that encourage people not to work would do the opposite?
This was one of the points of Elder Uchtdorf’s important talk in last year’s October conference. I discuss that talk here.
Elder Uchtdorf says:
There are many good people and organizations in the world that are trying to meet the pressing needs of the poor and needy everywhere. We are grateful for this, but the Lord’s way of caring for the needy is different from the world’s way. The Lord has said, “It must needs be done in mine own way.” He is not only interested in our immediate needs; He is also concerned about our eternal progression. For this reason, the Lord’s way has always included self-reliance and service to our neighbor in addition to caring for the poor.
The Lord’s way makes both the giver and the person receiving charity happy. The world’s way appears to make everybody miserable.