Friday, October 21, 2011

Love and Be Loved

   In 1964 The Beatles recorded a song entitled “Can’t Buy Me Love”.  The premise of the song is that money cannot buy love.   It has also been said that money cannot buy happiness either.  However, this certainly does not prevent people from attempting to prove this theory wrong.  In every age there are people who believe that if they only had money then people would treat them differently.  They believe that people who respect them and they would be considered important. 
    While it is true that the wealthy receive a certain amount of respect by virtue of their money, the fact remains that simply having money does not guarantee that someone is worthy of such respect.  This is particularly true of those who win the lottery.  They suddenly acquire money and now they expected to be accepted by high society.

    Study after study has shown wealth has surprisingly little effect on how happy you are. Most of us tend to think that if we just made a bit more money, we'd get more satisfaction out of life or have a greater sense of well-being. But on the whole, this turns out not to be true. So why doesn't money make us happy? Recent research suggests the answer lies, at least in part, in how wealthier people lose touch with their ability to savor life's pleasures.

   Savoring is a way of increasing and prolonging our positive experiences. When we focus on what we are doing in the moment, when we eagerly anticipate something or relish our memories of it, and when we relive it by describing it to others, we are savoring -- and in the process we are enhancing our own happiness. Taking time to experience the subtle flavors in a piece of dark chocolate, imagining the fun you'll have on an upcoming vacation (and leafing through your trip photos afterward) and telling all your friends on Facebook about the hilarious movie you saw over the weekend -- these are all acts of savoring, and they help us squeeze every bit of joy out of the good things that happen to us.

   Why, then, don't wealthier people savor if it feels so good? It's obviously not for a lack of things to savor. The basic idea is that when you have the money to eat at fancy restaurants every night and buy designer clothes from chic boutiques, those experiences diminish the enjoyment you get out of the simpler, more everyday pleasures, like the smell of a steak sizzling on your backyard grill or the bargain you got on the sweet little sundress from Target.

   These new studies show people who have higher incomes spend significantly less time savoring their experiences than their relatively poorer peers do. Interestingly, just being exposed to images of wealth can dampen your savoring skills! In one study, college students who had recently seen a photo of a stack of money spent far less time eating a bar of chocolate -- gulping it down rather than relishing each bite -- and displayed far fewer signs of enjoyment than those students who hadn't seen the money. Just thinking about wealth can make us lose sight of the good things happening to us right now. 1

      Russian society in the nineteenth century was well known for the importance which it placed upon social standing.  Actually, this was not unique to Russian society; however, in his novel War and Peace, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) made a point of emphasizing this fact. 

    The main character, Pierre Bezuhov is a large-bodied, slightly overweight, and socially awkward illegitimate son of an old Russian grandee. After being educated abroad he returns to Russia as a misfit. His unexpected inheritance of a large fortune makes him socially desirable. Pierre is the central character and often a voice for Tolstoy's own beliefs or struggles.  Initially he is rejected by Russian high society; however, upon receiving his father’s substantial inheritance he is suddenly accepted by all who meet him.  He ends up becoming the most eligible bachelor in Russia.

    Pierre proposes marriage to Princess Elena Vasilyevna (Hélène) Kuragin, a woman he is sexually attracted to, but is rumored to be having an incestuous affair with her brother, Prince Anatol.  Hélène marries Pierre, but informs him that she will not bear him any children.  She appears to have married him for his money and she spends it freely on fashions and jewels to enhance her image as the most beautiful and desirable woman in St. Petersburg. However, she ends up lonely and unloved.

    Pierre becomes concerned because his new found wealth has not given him the happiness he seeks.  Pierre joins the Freemasons, and becomes embroiled in Masonic internal politics. Much of Book Two concerns his struggles with his passions and his spiritual conflicts to be a better man. Now a rich aristocrat, he abandons his former carefree behavior and enters upon a philosophical quest particular to Tolstoy: how should one live a moral life in an ethically imperfect world? The question continually baffles and confuses Pierre. He attempts to liberate his serfs, but ultimately achieves nothing of note. 2

   He decided that he wants to experience what war is like, so he leaves home and takes part in a quest to assassinate Napoleon. He becomes an anonymous man in all the chaos, shedding his responsibilities by wearing peasant clothes and shunning his duties and lifestyle. The only people he sees while in this garb are Countess Natasha Rostova and some of her family, as they depart Moscow. Natasha recognizes and smiles at him, and Pierre, in turn, realizes the full scope of his love for her.

    Our main character saves the life of a French officer who fought at Borodino, yet is taken prisoner by the retreating French during his attempted assassination of Napoleon, after saving a woman from being raped by soldiers in the French Army. He becomes friends with a fellow prisoner, Platon Karataev, a peasant with a saintly demeanor, who is incapable of malice. In Karataev, Pierre finally finds what he has been seeking: an honest person of integrity (unlike the aristocrats of Petersburg society) who is utterly without pretense. Pierre discovers meaning in life simply by living and interacting with him. After witnessing French soldiers sacking Moscow and shooting Russian civilians arbitrarily, Pierre is forced to march with the Grand Army during its disastrous retreat from Moscow in the harsh Russian winter. After months of trial and tribulation—during which the fever-plagued Karataev is shot by the French—Pierre is finally freed by a Russian raiding party, after a small skirmish with the French that sees the young Petya Rostov, the youngest member of the Rostov family, killed in action. Given the fact that Leo Tolstoy chose to spend most of his time on his estate in central Russia surrounded by his serf, it is not surprising that a serf becomes the most honorable person that Pierre meets.

   As the novel draws to a close, Pierre's wife Hélène dies ambiguously. Pierre is reunited with Natasha, while the victorious Russians rebuild Moscow. Natasha speaks of Prince Andrei's death and Pierre of Karataev's. Both are aware of a growing bond between them in their bereavement. With the help of Princess Maria, Pierre finds love at last and, revealing his love after being released by his former wife's death, marries Natasha.

   Pierre finds love and happiness, not through acquiring wealth, but as a result of living the life he chose for himself.  Money does not bring Pierre any happiness.  His wealth brought him into contact with people that he would not have otherwise met, but this was no guarantee of happiness.  In fact, Pierre seemed to be genuinely unhappy surrounded by people of St. Petersburg high society who lacked integrity.  

   Money can assist in many ways.  It eliminates the issue of paying for the basic necessities of life; however, this does not guarantee happiness.  There are numerous accounts throughout history of people who had more money than they could ever possibly spend; however, they were miserable.  The Beatles informed us that money cannot buy us love and it cannot buy happiness either.  Lev Tolstoy provides a wonderful quote, which gives us some insight into his understanding of happiness, when he says, “Seize the moment of happiness, love and be loved! This is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.”

                                                       End Notes

2)    “War and Peace” 


Anonymous said...

If money can't buy happiness at all, then no money definitely can't buy happiness at all , at all.
Maybe you should write an article about how in a materialistic world people are more unworthy of love from the high demands that society sets. I wealthy man, has more value and prospects than any poor one.

Anonymous said...

Money can't buy a hapiiness and health, however lack of them gurantee to lose hapinees, healthy and peace. Matter isn't in money, matter in its amount.