Author: Peter Cantelon, Executive Director
With the holiday season well under way people are rushing around buying gifts, considering where they will donate, and generally thinking about others in a way the rest of the year may not encourage as much.
Whoever coined the term “money can’t buy happiness” was likely someone with money. They meant well, and at a foundational level they were onto something, but then wildly missed the point when they coined this oft repeated phrase.
This phrase sits in the same wheelhouse as “misery loves company.” Both phrases seem to try and offer comfort by suggesting that “other people struggle too” which is a terrible and somewhat useless form of comfort at best and, at worst, creates a need to hurt others so that I feel better.
In various ways my wife and I are both intimately familiar with economic disadvantage and mental illness – particularly depression.
While there have been struggles, some of them significant, we have been fortunate enough to sustain ourselves to a place where we have some tools and resources to attempt to work through things as they arise.
As an example, the other day we were discussing depression while relaxing in our hot tub. We were talking about how certain kinds of mental illness such as depression often seem to arise out of a vacuum and then hunt out a source or sources to latch onto and blame like some sort of emotional heat seeking missile.
It is important, we agreed, to try our best in such circumstances, to rise up and gain perspective of our landscape so that we can be prepared when this happens.
This is when we noted the importance of “stuff” and how “stuff” factors in. While taking a break from writing this, I stumbled across an apt meme in a brilliant stroke of serendipity – it read “getting out of bed would be 10X easier if there was a Caribbean Sea and 30-degree weather waiting outside for you.”
This statement is not saying you would be less tired in this circumstance. It is saying you would be more motivated to get up in this circumstance.
Money and stuff can’t buy happiness but it can change circumstance and alleviate and/or eliminate a lot of those targets something like depression seeks out.
The difference between myself and my mum for instance is that when depression haunts me, I can take the opportunity to ponder it from my hot tub. My mum, when she was alive, would have to ponder it, if she had the luxury to even ponder, from her Salvation Army couch in the confines of a crappy, rented, run-down government housing project, with the weight of deciding which bill to pay and which to ignore, while caring for her four children alone and planning groceries without a car.
At Jubilee Fund we are intimately aware of the needs of the economically disadvantaged in our community through our work and our many partnerships. It is important, as the holiday season approaches, to remember that those struggling with poverty need more than simply the bare minimum of food and shelter, as important as those things are – they need access to dignity.
Dignity sometimes means your children being able to go to school and not feel less than the others because of the shoes they wear. Dignity means having access to a decent computer or a night out once in a while to alleviate the stress.
I can go to my espresso machine and make a cappuccino to drink as I seek solace (maybe you can too). I can wander out onto the porch of my beautiful 130-year-old field stone home and consider my options while ordering a high-end pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
I recall once walking with someone and passing a homeless man who was seeking assistance while on his cell phone. Instantly, and to my ongoing shame, my judging nature rose up and whispered – “he doesn’t need money if he has a cell phone” etc.
The thing is a cell phone doesn’t need a service plan to be useful to a homeless person (and why does it matter if they can afford it). It can provide access to resources via free Wi-Fi spots and in moments in danger can access 911. It is a VERY important resource for a homeless person and not simply a tool of privilege one should have after “dealing with their homelessness.”
My point? Stuff matters. Things matter when it comes to poverty and mental illness. Resources matter. Does having a decent job, a stable marriage, a home, two cars and a strong family support network mean my depression is less than someone else’s? No. Does it mean I may be able to weather the storm better? Probably. It may mean the difference between being able to take care of myself during a depression and not being able to because of a dozen other concerns rooted in poverty, gender, and other sources of inequity.
Income and stability absolutely matter when navigating poverty and mental illness. These things are not simply matters of food and shelter but of equality, dignity and justice.
Now one must be careful when walking this line of thinking because depression, like so many other expressions of mental illness, can lean on addictive behaviours. One could find themselves trying to buy themselves peace of mind through online shopping, drugs, gambling etc. and this will only add to the worries and circumstances that extend and foster depression.
My point is this – while we may all, on occasion, feel the same things, we are not all resourced in the same way to navigate those feelings.
Before you rush off to tell your depressed or economically disadvantaged friend who is struggling to make ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck that “money doesn’t buy happiness” consider not saying anything at all and asking yourself how you might be able to resource them as a valuable part of their support network…perhaps by being a silent presence and abiding with them through the storm for starters.
This holiday season consider contributing to organizations like Jubilee Fund who partner with a variety of supportive programs to resource people beyond simply basic food and shelter but in every area of life to achieve the dignity they so rightly deserve.