shoes from England

p. 79:

I was happier on the lawns because I had on shoes from England with rubber nobs on the soles that bit into the soft ground.

A minor detail can conceal a wealth of wisdom when the subject is happiness. Jordan is just explaining why, as a young girl, she liked to walk on the grass instead of the sidewalk. It’s easy to miss the detail of associating happiness with her shoes.

Can money buy happiness? Of course not. Money can eliminate many of the conditions of misery: hunger, exposure to the elements, sheer material deprivation. In contrast, happiness bought with money is at best fleeting, and more typically a profane insult to the values being purchased: friendship, love, knowledge, self-worth. But it’s too simplistic to say that money can’t buy happiness and leave it at that.

Jordan had on shoes from England, a detail connoting quality and the expense of foreign luxury. Would cheap sandals from the five-and-dime have made her as happy, even with similar tactile nobs that conveyed the texture of the earth? Possibly she acquired her shoes while on a trip to England, imprinting the happy memories of travel into the spring of her footfalls. Perhaps instead the shoes were special-ordered by her mother, a symbol of a loving bond. Years later, Jordan remembered that a particular pair of shoes brought her happiness that day, but it almost certainly wasn’t just about the shoes.

A simple rule of thumb about money and happiness is to spend money on experiences, not things – money is well spent on dinners with friends, vacations and adventures, rather than jewelry and boats and other bling. This simplicity loses nuance, for sometimes things allow you to experience adventures, sometimes souvenirs provide memories that outlast adventures. Money buys happiness when it is meaningfully spent, when the thing acquired also acquires meaning from the heart of the purchaser. A wedding ring is a classic example where a thin tin band could hold more value than a ten carat diamond – the object matters for what it means, and what really matters is what would remain if the object is destroyed.

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