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Good news in bad economic news

Jobless claims are up and sales of previously owned homes have dropped this week,leading experts to conclude that the economy may be slowing.  But here’s the good news in the bad news: more money doesn’t make us happy, anyway.  A new study in Psychological Science concludes, in words that sound like a Sunday sermon: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.  Neither does materialism: Research shows that people who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not.”

In fact, the more we think about money the worse it gets: “Irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mindset, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in wellbeing, including negative affect and social disengagement.”  That’s psychology-speak for the fact that when people think of themselves as “consumers,” they become even more possessive and antisocial.

Here’s another study on the subject I found fascinating this morning: in 1972, the percentage of Americans who said they were “pretty happy” was about 50%.  Across the years since, our standard of living has risen dramatically while our gross domestic product per capita has increased by 96%.  We have more, consume more, and can afford more.  So what percentage of us say they’re “pretty happy”?  Fifty percent.  In fact, according to the experts, “we are more depressed, more suicidal, more psychotic, more anxious, more stressed than we were 30, 40 years ago.”

Why is this?  Psychologists offer a variety of theories, but there’s a spiritual dimension to our materialism that is worth considering as well.  In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis quotes a demon’s observation to his fellow tempter: “Prosperity knits a man to the world.  He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.  His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth, which is just what we want.  You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.”

So what are we to do about our material needs?  Jesus’ answer is both familiar and challenging: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).  In other words, serve God as the King of your life and your possessions, and he will meet your needs by his grace.

How do we find the faith to trust God with our financial needs?  Here’s what it comes to, according to today’s reading in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest: “Our capacity and capability in spiritual matters is measured by, and based on, the promises of God.  Is God able to fulfill His promises?”  What do you think?

Dr. Denison’s cultural commentary originally appeared at http://www.denisonforum.org. It has been reposted here with permission of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.

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