The topic of money and happiness is important for Jehovah’s Witnesses, as Watchtower frequently discusses this correlation. A realistic understanding of finance is important due to the effect money has on stress and happiness, both now and in your future.
It is no coincidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses are some of the poorest members of any religious group in the United States.
Image Attribution: Pew – How income varies among U.S. religious groups Oct 11 2016
A general understanding of happiness is required to understand how it is affected by money. Research into the basis for happiness is well encapsulated by Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, which identifies the key components being relationships, a purposeful existence, having a sense of accomplishment, positive emotions and engagement.
Personal relationships dominate the findings of research into happiness. The longest ever study into happiness, Harvard Study of Adult Development, reached its 80 year mark in 2018, which confirms that close relationships has the strongest effect on happiness.
There are two other key aspects:
Poor health and pain affect feelings of wellbeing, the activities a person can engage in and the opportunity to build and maintain relationships. Harvard Study of Adult Development found a connection between health, happiness and relationships, and also identified that good relationships positively assist with health.
Money is connected to happiness is how it assists with the areas identified above. Money provides access to better healthcare. It allows for more freedom to pursue relationships and other areas you find give meaning to your life.
Wealth and material possessions do not bring happiness. Research consistently shows that once basic living requirements have been catered for, additional levels of wealth do not lead to higher levels of happiness. Poverty on the other hand reduces happiness. It results in stress that has a negative influence on happiness, and restricts a person’s ability to pursue relationships and engage in meaningful pursuits.
Watchtower spends much time criticising the view that money is a source of happiness. Materialism is regularly criticised, as is the love of money. Watchtower September 2009 carries the articles “Is Money the Source of True Happiness,” and “Happy and Hopeful Despite Poverty,” describing how the love of money is the root of evil that can lead people away from the faith. The Awake! March 2014 article “ A Balanced View of Money” contains some good advice on having a sensible view of money.
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly go to the opposite extreme, avoiding higher education, working part time or in low paid positions, and not saving for the future.
Watchtower’s constant fear mongering about the imminence of Armageddon leads many Jehovah’s Witnesses to believe long-term financial planning is unnecessary.
During the 1970’s, just prior to the expected ‘end’ in 1975, Jehovah’s Witnesses were praised for selling houses and devoting themselves to the pioneer work.
“Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” Kingdom Ministry May 1974 p.3
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008 by the Pew Forum identified that not only do Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest level of families earning over $100,000 as shown above, they also have the second lowest level of Post Graduate degree educated members.
Image Attribution: Pew – The most and least educated U.S. religious groups 4 Nov 2016
This is not a criticism of people that do not pursue higher education, or have lower incomes, but rather shows that Watchtower’s teachings about materialism, combined with constant Armageddon imagery, has a significant effect on the long term choices Jehovah’s Witnesses make.
In 2008 it was not necessary for an American family to earn over $100,000 to be happy, however, many on the lower end of the income scale do experience financial related hardship and stress that directly affects their quality of life and happiness.
Most importantly is retirement. Once a person reaches an age where they cannot work they are constrained by savings, or family and government assistance. Few countries provide adequate age pensions. Numerous experiences are related online about older Jehovah’s Witnesses that did not save for retirement because they trusted Watchtower’s direction that the end was just around the corner. Some did not have children because Watchtower discouraged having children on the basis that “the end is so close.” Many are now struggling and in dire financial circumstances.
I am proud of my father, an Elder and eventual Circuit Overseer, for encouraging me to go to university, despite receiving a lot of criticism when I did. He held a long term view, advising I plan for the future, even if Armageddon was going to come tomorrow. He used Watchtower as the example, and how it keeps building new Branches and Kingdom Halls, despite saying Armageddon is any time now, while encouraging followers to devote themselves to full-time Bible service, at the expense of future financial requirements. History proves the wisdom of my father, since Watchtower has said for over 100 years that Armageddon will be soon, a period spanning the careers of many generations.
Stress is an impediment to happiness. Having sufficient finances to cover basic living and healthcare costs is key to reducing stress and maintaining happiness. Not all countries provide adequate healthcare for residents, so it is wise to prepare for retirement, earning enough to cover daily needs and save for future requirements. This means planning now and making wise decisions while you’re young about education and career choices.
Happiness does not come from owning designer clothes or accumulating massive wealth, but it does correlate to being able to afford a standard of living that in many countries the minimum wage or government pensions do not meet.
Do not allow others to make you feel guilty for planning and pursuing an education and career that you enjoy, and will adequately provide for your current and future needs.