I work in the film and television industries and know individuals of substantial wealth and social standing. Why then, are so many of them miserable?
Can money buy happiness?
The question is an old one, oft-debated, but there does appear to be some science to the affirmative. See here for Insider.com’s 2010 story on the matter, “Money Can Buy Happiness: Here's How Much You Need and How to Spend it, According to a Financial Therapist.” The article, by Honah Liles, is credited as having been medically reviewed first by Alisa Ruby Bash, an acclaimed PsyD and LMFT.
From the article: Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, LMSW, a financial therapist and author of "The Financial Anxiety Solution," says an annual income of $75,000 may not be the threshold for everyone. Being able to meet basic needs like food, housing, and healthcare are top priorities. Then, the amount of satisfaction derived from income varies depending on factors like the cost of living in your area and your personal interests.
Despite it’s age, the Insider.com piece is comprehensive and well-worth reading. Increase the numbers therein in proximity to the last decade’s inflation and the words still make good sense. However, in my experience, the above findings tend to fly in the face of the psychology of the financially successful — as opposed to the so-called starving artist — for which creation of work frequently means more than the monetary aspect.
For the sake of clarity, I will define an “artist” herein as the following: Any individual who creates for a vocation, avocation or personal hobby, be it through writing, music, sculpting, acting, painting or any other discipline in which the act of creation is intended to result in a work of value to the creator.
An elaboration follows.
The Drive and Plight of an Artist
There are several dimensions to the creative mind that appear to contrast greatly with those of a more pragmatic nature, according to entities such as National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee Samuel G. Freedman. See Freedman’s vintage New York Times article on the subject, “How Inner Torment Feeds the Creative Artist,” here. Further, In their collaborative report linked below, the Los Angeles Poverty Department recently reported that thousands of homeless people presently living in Los Angeles’ Skid Row identify as artists and maintain an artist’s mindset. See their report which elucidates modern-day artist’s realities among the homeless, “Making the Case For Skid Row Culture,” linked here.
According to the above-linked articles, the drive of an artist frequently regards one’s overwhelming passion for their art. Aspiring actors will move to New York or Los Angeles by the hundreds of thousands yearly. Few will make it in the most challenging of professions; many will become homeless.
A large percentage of those artists have stated they would prefer to make a comfortable living practicing their art, though life had other plans and they never stopped creating despite the obstacles.
Being a starving artist is very real to the creative spirit as frequently theirs is an all or nothing effort. Those who do not follow a creative impulse will typically say things like, “Get a real job,” or, “Get a fall-back.“ If one is fortunate enough to become financially successful, the bills are paid and one of life’s great stressors is removed. However, if one encounters any of the following along the way, a sense of despair or general unhappiness is prone to strike which can effectively ruin once-thriving careers: Ageism, sexism, and racism as three examples.
Despite the money saved, happiness, or lack thereof, is not based on their bank accounts.
Case in point: A personal friend made top-grossing films that became cultural benchmarks. Once he passed a certain age, he could not get work and was pushed aside in favor of younger creatives. It’s been years since he made a studio film, and he’s been handcuffed from doing so ever since.
Catherine Clinch, head of the Writers Guild of America West (WGAw) Career Longevity Committee, wrote the following well-received piece over a year ago, which describes the difficulties of older writers in the film and television industries. See here for Deadline article link: WGA West Career Longevity Committee Demands Inclusion and Equity for Older Writers.
Regardless of one’s art, the creative field as an umbrella can be a veritable minefield to navigate. Drug addiction and general substance abuses are common, early deaths by suicide and other issues just as much so. Coping is simply not easy.
The mindset largely becomes about the work, and hopefully the money will follow. Once there, however, it becomes about sustaining for the art’s sake and all too frequently not about the money.
To conclude, money may buy the happiness of some, and it will certainly decrease one of life’s great stressors as earlier mentioned, but to entities such as artists there is considerably more to a life of happiness than the almighty dollar.
As ever, thank you for reading.