This movie spectacle, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, poses a question: “Can money buy happiness?” Spoiler alert here… Jay Gatsby, despite his wealth and extravagance, does not find happiness or success in love.
‘Happiness-economics’, says UBC professor, Elizabeth Dunn, shows that money may make us feel satisfied in our lives, but it doesn’t seem to have as much impact on day-to-day good feelings. Jay Gatsby would probably agree.
In his research paper on the ‘Economics of Happiness’, American economist, Richard Easterlin, states that great postwar growth in wealth in the United States and Japan has not made the countries correspondingly happier. Statistics show that our “real term” income may have risen, but happiness has not kept pace. And many signs indicate that increasing dissatisfaction, stress and depression in our societies is taking its toll also on our physical health.
Is our ideal happiness what the media markets to us – the perfect house, the perfect vacation, or the perfect body…or to Jay, the perfect party?
This may skew our sense of what really matters. Money may matter to supply the basics, but it will never mean as much as we think it will, nor ensure happiness or health in life.
The flip side to happiness is of course unhappiness and, for some, depression. About 8% of Canadians suffer from either major or chronic depression. Globally the World Health organization estimates that depression affects more than 100 million people.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), antidepressants are on the rise. Although antidepressants can be lifesaving for some individuals, initial drug therapy produces full benefits in only 30 percent to 40 percent of patients. Long-term studies indicated that even after trying two to four different drugs, one-third of people will remain depressed.
Happiness takes work – there is no quick fix. Anything in life that is worthwhile takes time and effort. Equally important, studies have shown that health and happiness consistently go hand in hand.
For example, one study of British civil servants showed that happier employees had lower levels of stress and more favorable biological functions, which hedged against such things as heart disease.
But how do we actually increase our happiness so we can also increase our health?
Most of us probably don’t believe we need a formal definition of happiness; we know it when we feel it. In her book, The How of Happiness, psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Some of the key components she recommends to increase happiness in your life are:
- spending time with family and friends
- maintaining a work/life balance
- making time for interests and hobbies
Some studies indicate that improved health and happiness can also result from increased spirituality. It seems happiness can be more consistent in our lives through a combination of spiritual–like qualities such as gratitude, joy, hope, inspiration and love.
How, then, would one improve or increase one’s spirituality? Author Maggie Lyon in an article entitled, Making Room for Spiritual Practice, defines spiritual practice as something you do every single day that draws you deeper into who you really are, by connecting you with your divine self. Many people find it easiest to maintain a practice first thing in the morning. But what does that mean you give up? Sleep? Or is it the extra hour on the computer before bed the night before so that you don’t lose the time in bed? There are choices here. It is up to you.
As someone who has long devoted time each day to a spiritual practice, I find her description of the discipline it takes right on when she says: “You must designate, carve out, and stick to the time for it, often letting go of something else in order to keep it alive.”
I experienced a period of deep depression when my family business had to close its doors after decades of dedicated work and prosperity. It was the sole source of my financial support. I had developed over the years the practice of taking time each morning to immerse myself in a Bible-based practice. Deep contemplative prayer calmed my thinking and led me to understand that my wellbeing was not dependent upon material accomplishments. I did not feel abandoned or alone as I established a deeper understanding of my relationship to the Divine source of all the good in my life. My happiness and health were restored – not overnight – but this disciplined practice stood me in good stead.
Perhaps, if Jay Gatsby had looked beyond the wealth or material objects that he thought could bring him happiness, he might have considered exploring his connection to the divine and, thus, found an easier and less costly path to greater happiness – and health.