Fortune’s Fool

Posted: June 14, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m incredibly lucky to have all that I do. My life is full of tremendous things, and getting to earn a living doing something I love is near the tippity-top of the list.

My good fortune was made particularly relevant in class this week. The text for this week’s class was excerpts from The Manifesto of the Communist Party, by Marx and Engels. Naturally, we spent a lot of class time discussing socio-economic class, money, and spending. My students enjoy class discussion; here’s a chance to talk about real things, and try to make sense of them. From my perspective, the most significant moment of our conversation this week occurred when I told them that I truly believe that having more money would not make my life happier.

Fascinating data provides evidence that, after achieving a set point of “comfort,” enough income to live safely and comfortably, more money does not increase happiness. Look to the work of Dr. Martin Seligman and his fellow psychology professors for the astounding intricacies. In fact, theorists have moved away from using the term “happiness” in their research because it is too often conflated with pleasure (what feels good). Understanding the attributes of a fulfilling life is complicated, but investigating and promoting “well-being” seems to be more productive.

My poor students: this might have been the first time they’d questioned the promise of more money. Imagine the questions that erupted! I had to explain a lot quite quickly. I assured them that I am not foolish enough to suggest that money is irrelevant, or that I remain angelically above the temptations of commerce. Nevertheless, the revelation isn’t about me. It’s about the perception that more money will mean more happiness. Not some money, more. Always more. Happier with more. The endless futility of this logic should be obvious, but many of my students remained unconvinced.

Interesting what a “tough sell” (pun intended) this is to my bright, inquisitive, ambitious college students. And why shouldn’t it be so? How many times they are encouraged to go to college to “make more money”? College is bought and sold like a product, and nearly every other aspect of daily life is packaged as a commodity. When told that college is an “investment,” they all “buy it.” I’m not the first person to point out that metaphors matter. If we continue to frame life in economic terms, we will be eternally disappointed. The repercussions are far beyond the scope of this diatribe, but consider how infrequently students are asked to question the capitalistic motivations in their lives. Living an enriching life is not about more money. Students need to know that how they choose to spend their time and apply their talents, in college and beyond, should be not be motivated by the desire to have more, but the determination to be more.

  1. Trish says:

    Two typos, blast! My fault, entirely.

    • Jane says:

      Eh well, life and spending are full of errors- two won’t put a crease in your freshly ironed sheets:-) I love teaching the Manifesto too. I always ask everyone to put their money out on their desks and then ask if they wouldn’t mind sharing their happiness:-) Most are willing to part with some as long as it is for a “good cause”!

  2. mcdona13 says:

    First off, I love your blog’s title; any reference to Benjamin is a good reference to Benjamin. On a more relevant note, I could not agree more. As a recent college grad struggling to find a job, I can totally relate; I approached my English major not as a means for making more money, but enriching myself intellectually–something I value greatly. However, the job market at-large is not so keen on this. Perhaps it’s solely my construal, as I am biased, but I feel that all my intellectual advancement carries little weight in the “real world” because I do not bring a ready-made hermetically sealed set of skills to the career table, whereas those who choose paths directed towards the “more money” end do. At this level, I think that the society of late capitalism has become so segmented and specialized as to quash the marketability of those on the fringes. On a deeper, but–I would argue–more important, level, this anecdote illustrates how any change in contemporary ideology (in the Althusserian sense) must be facilitated at the level of thought, as Deleuze and Guattari suggest. Cheers to you, sir, for a wonderful post.

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