I know when I don’t have any I can be very stressed, but who would have thought it.
For me money only represents security.
For others I suppose its different. What I do find most unpleasant is the undue influence unelected people with money have over others. It’s all about the power?
Money can’t buy happiness: it’s a rarely questioned truism. It also tends to be most enthusiastically embraced by those who have never gone without it. “I’ve tried hard to care about money,” Chelsea Clinton once humble-bragged, “but I couldn’t.” No matter how attached we are to the idea that money can’t buy happiness, though, the research shows almost the complete opposite.
After community and social relationships, the association between income and wellbeing is one of the most robust in the happiness literature. And a new study demonstrates just how deep-seated that psychological link is, how intricately our financial circumstances weave their way into our psyches.
Money doesn’t just shield us from obvious daily stresses, this study tells us, but can actually buy us the most basic of our psychological needs – human connection. The higher our income, the less likely we are to experience loneliness.
This study builds on a wide body of research giving a similar message. Although money is clearly no guarantee of contentment, and there are anomalies in the data, as a general rule, the better off we are financially, the happier we are.
But yet we still restate our fridge-magnet mantra about the irrelevance of money to happiness over and over again, a cosy boast of our lack of materialism. And in recent years, with the advent of the highly influential “positive psychology” movement, this idea has been given a new academic respectability.
Positive psychology – the study of happiness and how to improve it – is an academic discipline less than 20 years old, and one of the fastest growing and most newly influential in the US. Positive psychology professors have been contracted to advise everyone from corporate America to the British government, and the field has spawned an entire industry of self-help books, coaching, courses and consultancy.
Right from the start, the basic philosophical underpinning of most of the positive psychology movement has been that our circumstances (including our financial circumstances) are of minimal consequence to our happiness. Instead, what really matters is our attitude. In this worldview, with the right techniques and enough emotional elbow-grease we can “positive think” our way out of almost any adversity.
Often using small or methodologically flawed studies as evidence, positive psychologists restate over and over the claim that money is of minimal importance to wellbeing. “Increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness” writes Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in his seminal positive psychology book, Authentic Happiness.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert discussed a similar idea in his wildly popular TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, now viewed over 12 million times. He quoted as evidence a methodological train-wreck of a study from the 1970s that suggested that a small group of lottery winners were no happier than a group of paraplegic accident victims. (Although Gilbert graciously later admitted that the study actually didn’t even really show that much.)
Positive psychology’s insistence that our circumstances matter little to our happiness, and relentless focus on individual effort has an ideological flavor – a kind of neoliberalism of the emotions. And perhaps this philosophical bent isn’t surprising, given the positive psychology’s history and its key financial backers.
A large part of positive psychology’s academic research has been bankrolled by an organization called the Templeton Foundation, a group that has provided millions of dollars in funding to most of the major positive psychology research centers in America. While the Foundation is ostensibly politically neutral, its founder and director until his death last year was Sir John Templeton Jr, a lavish rightwing political donor, who over his lifetime gave millions of dollars to the Republican party and various anti-government rightwing political causes.
From the start, the Templeton Foundation set the intellectual scope of positive psychology’s remit by overwhelmingly funding projects designed to demonstrate the importance of individual effort to happiness via optimism, gratitude exercises and the like, and all but ignoring the impact of social context.
The narrative of the irrelevance of money to happiness has, unsurprisingly been enthusiastically received by corporate America, some of the best customers of the positive psychology movement, who have eagerly replaced pay-rises with “workplace happiness training”, unionization with positive thinking.
But it’s a dangerous story. Money matters. And most of us have a lot less of it than we used to. For most workers, real income has barely shifted for decades, and more than a quarter of working Americans earn what are officially classified as “poverty-level wages”. Forty-six million people in the US live below the poverty line and even the middle class is in financial crisis. Nearly half of Americans would struggle to find 0 in an emergency. Money isn’t a fringe issue to our wellbeing. It’s at the very heart and soul of it.
And instead of being embarrassed to admit that, we should be shouting it from the rooftops, printing it on our fridge magnets and using it as a rallying cry for social action. Money makes us happy! Suggesting otherwise doesn’t make us spiritually enlightened or morally superior. It makes us clueless.
Ruth Whippman will be speaking at a Guardian Live/Somerset House event How to be Happy on 1 September.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Well now, I have had the drugs and they worked for a while, but they don’t permanently fix the problem.
Personally I have tried everything from self-hypnosis to mediation and these techniques work for a while, but the effectiveness tends to be temporary. Having said that, anything that works even for a while has got to help .
This article titled “Mindfulness therapy for mental health problems? ‘It’s more useful than drugs'” was written by Sarah Marsh and Guardian readers, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th May 2016 08.30 UTC
Many people, in an attempt to de-stress, have tried some form of mindfulness – the practice of sitting still and focusing on your breathing and thoughts. But does it work? And in what circumstances?
A new study has raised hope for its use in treating mental health problems. The biggest review of the practice by researchers at Oxford University found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could help to combat depression as effectively as drugs.
The University of Oxford’s department of psychiatry, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, also released research last year that found the MBCT course reduced the risk of relapse into depression by 44%. It adds to emerging evidence showing its effectiveness for treating generalised anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions.
As part of mental health awareness week, the Guardian posted a callout asking for those with mental health concerns to share their views on the effect of mindfulness on their wellbeing. More than 200 people responded.
Gina Rose, 51, from Basingstoke, who attended an MBCT course through the NHS, replied, saying that she used to get completely overwhelmed by her thoughts, succumbing to fear and depression caused by a childhood trauma. “Mindfulness didn’t take away these feelings completely, but it made them not overwhelming,” she says. “Over time, as I saw thoughts arise I acknowledged them and worked on self-compassion for having them in the first place. All this meant was that I didn’t end up feeling like death whenever depression came knocking.”
Kyle, 56, from London, was introduced to mindfulness in 1991 by his therapist, during a period of anxiety and depression. “It had a surprisingly rapid effect on me, and then levelled out to a steadier climb. If you’ve been breathing badly, with anxiety, you’re causing adrenaline to course through your nervous system, creating a mind-breath-panic feedback loop. This escalates to the point where it is enervating and exhausting. The gain from slowing down and being conscious of your breath was almost immediate.” Once this was achieved, Kyle could explore the reasons for his anxiety.
Mike, 56, from London, was recommended mindfulness meditation by a counsellor to help deal with a generalised anxiety disorder, and found it more effective than antidepressants. “It won’t work for everyone, no doubt, but I have anxiety that isn’t very severe. It certainly makes sense that spending 10 minutes a day relaxing and focusing on your thoughts, feelings and sensations would help you feel more present. I found it more useful than the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) I was prescribed by the NHS, in any case.”
Not everyone had such positive experiences. Tom, 42, from Lancashire tried dance-based mindfulness through the NHS, and also experimented with breathing techniques. “My mind always slipped back to listening to the music, and the lyrics. Breathing exercises make me more anxious … I seem to be unable to meditate. My mind is very busy, and I just end up thinking about how I should be meditating, with all sorts of other thoughts whizzing by as well.”
Tom feels that when mindfulness fails, the blame is often placed on the person who is practising it. “‘Don’t you want to change?’ That’s what I kept on being asked. Of course I do, but I know where my mental health issues come from. I have been through some very traumatic experiences, and I need to tackle them.”
For some, mindfulness not only doesn’t work, it also may make the problem worse, an issue raised by psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm in their book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, which argues that we need to look into the “dark side” of mindfulness.
Huck, 54, says that with practice, the mind is freed of both positive and negative thought patterns. This can allow problems to be put into a broader context.
But, he adds, the vastness of the mind can have a depressing effect on some. “This is because when we slow our thoughts down, they may play out in a more detailed and specific way. This can be useful with positive thoughts, but it can be damaging when we are in a depressed mood. The tone can become self-destructive and a sense of hopelessness may emerge.”
Helena, 52, from Ireland, says that if someone claims that it makes them feel worse, they shouldn’t be told by their psychiatrist to persist. “This happened to me. Also, I was made me feel that if I wasn’t feeling better, it was my own fault for not sticking with it. Ironically, I believe mindfulness should be started when a person is well. Or at least well enough to endure some psychic discomfort.”
Some also wonder whether mindfulness is more effective for certain mental health issues. Ian, 40, from Nottingham says: “I’d recommend it to recovering and recovered people to maintain good times and as a coping strategy but people have to be quite stable, mentally strong and with other forms of support in place. It’s not for people in acute states, in crisis, going through major stresses or in severe depression.”
Annemarije, 18, from Derby, who has tried mindfulness through the NHS as part of CBT, says: “It can help with neuroses like anxiety, depression and maybe obsessive compulsive disorder, but it might be tricky to apply to people who suffer from illnesses that feature psychosis. If my dad (a bipolar-schizophrenic) can’t be bothered to take his pills now and then, I’m not sure if he’d be up for sitting down and practising mindfulness.”
Despite the fact that some struggled with mindfulness (or it simply didn’t help with their issues), the overall message was that if you are given proper support then you have a higher chance of finding mindfulness beneficial.
Many of those who replied to us stress that a good teacher is essential, something noted in this year’s mindfulness all-party parliamentary group’s interim report, Mindful Nation UK.
Tracey, 46, from Bromley says: “The UK guidelines for mindfulness teachers requires rigorous and committed training. If the teacher doesn’t adhere to these guidelines then mindfulness in mental health will not be effective.”
There was also a general consensus that you should approach mindfulness as a tool for recovery but not see it as a cure-all. Dr Sarah Maynard, 33, from Tunbridge Wells, says: “The difficulty comes when people think it is a panacea. As with any therapeutic approach it is not right for everyone, and not right for people in the midst of significant problems … Mindfulness is not something we can simply ‘plug into’ to fix ourselves, it’s a fundamentally different way of approaching our difficulties and our lives, and is a practice that takes time to develop. Eight-week courses run by appropriately trained providers are the perfect opportunity to develop understanding and practise this approach.”
Jeannie Mackenzie, 65, from Scotland, describes it as a significant aid in her toolbox, which can “help us stay well, along with good food, exercise and connection with others”. For others, it can also be used alongside medication or other forms of therapy.
The most important thing, though, as pointed out by nearly all respondents, is to follow what feels right for you. Craig, 46, from London, says: “There is no doubt in my mind that mindfulness can be a powerful tool for dealing with personal issues and managing stress, but it’s only one of many techniques and strategies for coping. A walk in nature, time with friends, a gentle run or reading a good book can achieve very similar results … People need to adopt a strategy that best suits their personality and the issues they face, which calls for a certain amount of trial and error.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010