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13 Sep 2009

 9/13/09                                                                                                                                FEAST OF BROTHERLY LOVE

Fr. Randy Calvo   2009

“‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:37)                          In the name …

We’ve probably all heard the old adage that money can’t buy happiness. Well, that may not be as true as was once believed. Some psychologists decided to investigate this claim because it just felt counter-intuitive. There have been a lot of studies showing that money doesn’t make problems go away, that an unhappy poor person will become an unhappy rich person after the initial excitement of newfound money fades. But these psychologists, just like many of us sitting here right now, wondered how it is that money doesn’t make many of life’s difficulties disappear so that an unhappy poor person who has to wonder how to pay the bills every month can’t be much happier when instead they are freed of such concerns and worries, that instead of working at a dreary job every day they can go out and do whatever they like. And what these students of the human mind have discovered is that the problem isn’t the money itself, it’s us. They’ve discovered that money can buy happiness, but that we won’t let it. I’d like to read you a couple of sentences written by Drake Bennett on this subject: “For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that makes us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.” (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/08/23/happiness_a_buyers_guide/)

In other words, if we used money generously, then it can buy happiness.  But these same psychologists have reinforced previous studies that have found repeatedly that we too often choose to use money in the exact opposite ways that can foster happiness. Instead, it’s been proven time and time again that we let money use us rather than us using our money.   So money can buy happiness, but we won’t let it. Money can be as addictive as any illegal drug. It affects the way we think and act, and it plays on human attitudes about sharing and scarcity. Recent studies have suggested that merely thinking about money makes us more solitary and selfish, and steers us away from the spending that promises to make us happiest. Elizabeth Dunn is a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia and Michael Norton is a psychologist at the Harvard Business School. Together they published their study on wealth and happiness in the journal Science. These are not light weight scholars and the journal is not some fringe publication. And they summarized their findings by saying money makes a person most happy if we don’t spend it on ourselves.

Now this doesn’t mean that we have to lead Spartan lives so that we can give all our money away to others. Other psychologists have also spoken-out about the money and happiness topic and they explain that money can buy happiness when we spend it on experiences rather than stuff. Take a trip with your family, go out to dinner with people whose company you enjoy, splurge on the theater or go see the Pawtucket Red Sox or Carmen with friends from church. These experiences use money on ourselves, but they make us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. Buy a new car and someone else’s nicer car will bring down your satisfaction level, but people don’t think any less of their honeymoons because a neighbour went on a fancier one. Personal experience, the things that fill photo albums and make memories, is the happiness that can be bought with money, but the money itself tricks us into thinking that more stuff will make us smile. Money can make us happy, but we won’t let it. 

So experiences have a greater chance of making us happy than does stuff, but the studies also point to the fact that what we do for others has a much better chance of making us happy than just doing for ourselves. This summer I went to Stanley Park in Westfield to watch the Fourth of July fireworks. While there, I saw an elderly man being driven around in a golf cart. Almost everyone was waving to him and wishing him well. I came to find out that he was Albert Ferst. He’s a Westfield resident who did very well for himself in business. He and his wife had always been generous to various charities. Following his wife’s untimely death, he built Amelia Park and Amelia’s Garden in her memory. Amelia Park is a beautiful indoor ice rink for the families of Westfield, and it’s now surrounded by a beautiful garden where people can come to relax and to picnic. This cost him millions of dollars. He could have taken that money and built a bigger house and bought a fancier car. He could have loaded up his bank account. Instead, he used his money for others, and in the process, just by watching his face and his smile as he was driven around Stanley Park, just by watching his reaction to all of the “Hellos” yelled out to him, you could tell he was happy.

Maybe we can’t give away that kind of money for the good of other people, but we can drop a few coins every Sunday into the St. Jude’s collection, we can put a can or two of food in the Survival Center box, we can give to this church for the benefit of these people sitting here this morning, or we can make a donation to the Manor at Waymart after Mass today for the good of those elderly residents who we may never know. There is real science backing up the idea that our happiness flows from our connection with other people. Or we could simply listen to Jesus and His wisdom when He chooses to explain the intricacies of religious faith by giving us the simple example of the Good Samaritan, which He then follows with the command for each of us here today:  “‘Go and do likewise.’” On this Feast of Brotherly Love may we come to finally realize that by counting others as important in our lives we act on their behalf but also for our own happiness, that when we listen to Jesus’ teaching and follow through with it in imitation of the Good Samaritan that we enrich our own lives, and it is for these blessings of real and lasting happiness that we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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