Coin often currency of happiness

Coin often currency of happiness

By Al Lewis

Denver Post Staff Columnist

Article Last Updated: 06/25/2007 11:13:32 AM MDT

Can money buy happiness?

You bet it can.

Studies show that people in wealthier countries are generally happier than those in poorer countries, said Ed Diener, a University of Illinois psychologist who has made a career of studying well-being.

Research also shows that the wealthy are generally happier than those who struggle to make ends meet. And happy people tend to be more successful.

So not only does money lead to happiness, but happiness leads to money – or so the research shows.

As for me, I’ve never seen a happier man than Dick Notebaert, who recently announced plans to leave his post as Qwest chief executive. Notebaert’s total compensation was more than $100 million over his five-year turnaround of the once-troubled phone company. That includes a recent sale of $18 million in stock options.

“When I cashed those options in and gave that money away, I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying it felt,” Notebaert said when I asked about the link between money and happiness.

Notebaert, 59, hasn’t disclosed where he donated the money but said it would help high school students.

“I think money gives you options,” Notebaert said. “If somebody wouldn’t have helped me, I wouldn’t be here. I started out washing trucks at $91.50 a week.”

For Notebaert, money is simply a means to pursue an end. “It’s what you do with it,” he said. “If you ever lose your perspective, you’ve got a problem.”

Pete Contos, 72, left Greece in 1955 and landed in America with $6.75 in his pocket. He now owns eight restaurants, including the landmark Pete’s Kitchen on East Colfax Avenue. “Health is the most important thing, but money helps,” Contos said.

In a few days, he’s taking his entire family – 15 people, including kids, grandkids and sons-in-law – on a three-week vacation to Greece. He said he’s shelled out nearly $30,000 for hotels and ground transportation.

“If I didn’t have money, I could not take my family to Greece right now,” he said. “Therefore, somebody’s happy. Either I’m happy, the family is happy, or the kids are happy.”

Does money ever make you unhappy, I asked Contos. “No, I don’t have that much,” he laughed.

Karyn Cassidy, a single working mother from Castle Rock, said she’s seen TV reports about lottery winners who’ve succumbed to despair.

“They’ve won millions of dollars, and now their lives are ruined,” she said. “But they are not happy to start out with.”

Some research shows people have a happiness ‘set point.” Most people don’t walk around in a state of elation or despair but maintain an average emotional temperature. Suddenly gaining a large sum of money can cause a spike in happiness. But eventually, people return to their set point.

“You create happiness yourself, but money definitely helps,” said Cassidy, a program coordinator for Greenwood Village-based BTE Technologies. “The fact that I live paycheck to paycheck, that can be trying. But I am happy.”

Edie Marks, a real estate broker who sells multimillion-dollar homes, is one of those people who always seem bubbly. But she says it’s not because of the commissions she earns selling mansions. She finds happiness in relationships.

“I suppose if you are rich, you can get very beautiful, young women to be with you,” she said. “But that’s not necessarily happiness. …

“I’ve seen a lot of unhappy, very wealthy people,” she said. “There will always be people out there who will never have enough, no matter how much they have, because somebody else has even more. … Happiness comes from within.”

I met a guy named Guitar Steve, 51, in front of the state Capitol on Friday. He said he’d been a folk singer and a tennis pro in his day. He was wearing a cowboy hat, standing beside a worn guitar case, and waving a sign that said, “Anything helps.”

I gave him $3. He seemed happy about that. Can money buy happiness, I asked.

“No,” he said. “I had $18,000 one time in one lump sum. I wasn’t any happier than I was before. All you need is what you need. For me, it’s just a guitar, a place to sleep, a tennis racket, that’s about all.”

Al Lewis’ column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to him at