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Editorial: What is money worth?


Can money buy happiness? And what does that statement even mean? 

Our editorial board has observed many students who are infatuated with a particular social-financial elite lifestyle. 

Truthfully, it is difficult to separate self-worth from net worth. Manisha Thakor, Harvard Business School MBA graduate and author of “MoneyZen: The Secret to Finding Your ‘Enough,’” said people can feel unsatisfied with their life despite their accomplishments because they evaluate their own success and happiness based on money’s attribution to how well a company is performing. 

According to Empower’s Financial Happiness Report, “60% of Americans said money can buy happiness and achieving a certain net worth is key to its contentment.” 

The definition of “happy” is not easily agreed upon. What is, though, is how money brings comfort, or, more specifically, brings the absence of discomfort. 

Everyone deserves to earn a living wage that can provide them with basic necessities like shelter, food and education. These are human rights, and depriving citizens of them in a country as rich as the United States is unconscionable regardless of the political-economic system. 

In our world, income determines whether you work day or night (or both), spend time with family or can afford experiences. These are more important than material possessions or the accumulation of capital.  

People who must worry about affording basic necessities have an institutionally hindered quality of life, leading to an increased risk of health problems. We defined the top financial priorities as feeding yourself, being able to pay your bills and being able to take care of your family. 

According to The Commonwealth Fund, the living conditions and stress low-income individuals are under can lead to increased alcohol and tobacco use. Simultaneously, high financial barriers to entry for healthcare lead to having fewer preventative care services for these people. In turn, there are fewer opportunities for doctors to examine and educate these patients about health risks.

At Lehigh, some of us have found ourselves thinking, or even saying out loud “I don’t know exactly what I want to do, I want to just make money.” Some of us would rather be employed by a high-paying internship or job than a lower-paying job that we enjoy more. We don’t think we should expect to enjoy our careers.

After all, it is work. 

Many students at Lehigh don’t recognize the privilege of attending this school. According to a New York Times article published in 2017, the median family income of a Lehigh student was $167,000, and 67% of students come from the top 20% of earners in the United States.

Looking at this year’s applicants, out of the 5,170 students admitted, only 360 qualified for the Lehigh Commitment, which gives a full tuition grant for families who earn less than $75,000. This means only about 7% of admitted students for the class of 2028 qualified for this program. 

We need to cultivate more awareness about money and what it can give us: The freedom to not stress over our material conditions. 

Instead, we are worried about where we will study abroad or if we will have a high-paying internship. 

In our capitalist society, money frees you from alienation and discomfort. Having your needs met is important for your mental state, but earning more money than necessary will not make you significantly happier. If anything, it further deprives those without economic freedom of the ability to obtain a comfortable lifestyle.

Barbara Corcoran, a star on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and real estate entrepreneur, refutes the phrase “money can buy happiness” in an interview with CNBC. She spoke from experience, saying she was poor, rich and in between at different points in her life. To her, people fall victim to the fallacy of endless greed. 

The rich want to become even more wealthy, never achieving satisfaction.

It should be noted that Corcoran, someone with far more wealth than she needs, may only be able to see some pieces of the puzzle.

When deconstructing this age-old question, we determined this is not a productive way to think about money. We never consider the flip side, “Does poverty deprive you of happiness?”

We do not want to fall victim to the greed fallacy, but sometimes, it is hard to escape. Many students do not think about long-term finances but rather short-term sources of purchasable dopamine.

Different people have varying definitions of what happiness means. As incredibly privileged people, we need to acknowledge we have a different expectation of happiness and comfort than those who are struggling to get by. 


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