Column | Jan. 5

Royals

There I sat, alone in my room (and for all I knew alone in all of Holder) and thinking of finals yet to be studied for and paintings yet to be finished, while Lorde’s drawling notes eased out of my stereo. I’d only ever been mildly interested in Lorde’s music since her recent rise to fame, but for whatever reason I found solace in her songs during the lonely moments I was on campus during the last week of break. About halfway through each play through of her album “Pure Heroine” (which, with my blinds drawn and lights dimmed, seemed an appropriate title), the familiar lyrics of “Royals” began. And through the haze of my Heroine high I raised my glass to Lorde.

Lorde has managed to encapsulate my feelings toward wealth in a way I have been unable to articulate without coming across as a callous materialist. To be frank, I completely deny the maxim that money does not buy happiness. It does. There are few things that are not for sale and happiness, for the most part, does not make that list. In some way, Lorde shares my belief. While she does not bluntly state it as I have, she does allude to it; she claims, like those who uphold the aforementioned maxim, that she has no interest in the luxury that fascinates our generation (and indeed every generation), yet at the same time she is acutely aware of her own desire to be “Queen Bee.”

I want to be King, and I’ve no qualms admitting it. The majority of serious issues people face in our nation and the world is a result of financial hardship. Famine, disease, infant mortality and ballooning populations all stem from poverty. Even on a less dramatic scale, it’s much easier to smile when enjoying a family meal in a comfortable kitchen than if the rent is overdue and the children are defrosting groceries bought on credit while a parent works a second job. Money would let the latter family share conversation and a meal and would allow childhood laughter to survive a little longer before fading into adult responsibility. Cents and dollars, as much as they are denounced for their coldness, are precisely what could give such a family warmth. As for concerns unrelated to financials such as death, incurable disease and family disputes, monetary instability tends to only aggravate them further.

Even love — an undeniable factor to happiness and touted as a precious commodity that is as available to the poor as it is to the rich — is not entirely immune from the influence of money. In a study concluded in 1992, “money disputes were [found to be] the best harbinger of divorce,” contributing to a 30-40 percent increase in divorce rates of the 2,800 couples analyzed. Money, while perhaps still unable to purchase real and honest love, can at least help to keep it intact.

But Lorde’s song does not focus on such modest aspirations. Both the song title and her pseudonym make it clear that the type of wealth she suggests is that of the richest of the rich. Such financial security allows those in the top economic strata a freedom to pursue happiness that those with fewer dollars could never afford. And, despite the claim that money is the devil, these pursuits are not necessarily materialistic or self-centered, either. Travel, cultural exploration, education, career development and talent enrichment — all barely attainable by the lower and middle classes — can all be funded by a stuffed bank account. Still, such objectives may be seen as selfish. But surely acquiring immense wealth is more selfless for the charitable person than choosing a life of strict asceticism; many more dollars may be donated to altruistic causes when one’s salary is six or seven digits than when one is eking out a meager existence that can barely provide for themselves, let alone others. Of course, most of us attending Princeton are not planning on living the life of a Puritan fundamentalist, but the premise remains the same: No matter what gives us happiness and no matter what we value, more money very often means a higher attainment of those ends.

I am not affirming that, without an inexhaustible amount of money, humanity is damned to a life of wretched misery. Indeed, happiness can be achieved across all three economic classes, and for that we should be grateful. Yet I do believe that money makes happiness much more accessible and attainable, especially in our modern, global economy. And while I wish to dispel the strange and somewhat hypocritical taboo surrounding financial ambition, I recognize the delicate line it walks beside greed. What separates the two, however, is gratitude: gratitude for what one currently has while still looking forward and striving for improvement. With that said, I will continue to dream of crystal, Maybachs and tigers on a gold leash unashamedly, fully aware that each dollar I receive buys me one dollar more of happiness, yet always contented with just the fantasy.

Mitchell Hammer is a freshman from Phoenix, Ariz. He can be reached at mjhammer@princeton.edu.

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