Anthropology of Bellydance: Money Makes the World Go Round?

What is success? When deciding to start this blog, a lot of it came from this very issue. Both academic and artistic career choices are often looked down upon because the answer to the question, especially in a capitalistic soceity, is usually answered as money. I decided to start on this topic, because it was renewed this past weekend when a friend came in town to visit. He and another friend decided to tag team in a scolding session about not taking life/myself/money seriously, which if you only knew, was beyond ironic.

The scolding is not new either. I have been scolded and unsupported in almost every life decision I have made thus far. My family, though a dancer and entertainer family, thinks I have spent more than enough time in school and dancing and it's time to forget I have a brain and a body of my own and marry and start the baby making factory. Upon finding out about my dance career after keeping it secret for many years, my committee at university and many of my colleagues rather obviously judged me and some even asked if I was sure that wasn't code for stripper. This is not to say everyone was like this at university nor that I didn't educate or change minds of what I hope was all individuals, but it can take a toll to have most people who's opinions you respect treat you like a scandalous child.

Perhaps, you are wondering what the magic words were that I have said to family, colleagues, and other judgmental yet needed individuals and it is always this: I am happy. I have the time to write and research in the day and dance at night, I don't want for anything, though I might not have as much as capitalism thinks I should have, but I am beyond happy. Though it doesn't always work, those who are scolding out of love and not out of jealousy or some other malintent seem to understand.

I think a lot of times happiness and monetary success are assumed to be the same thing. If you have success, read money, you will be happy. And although we are all taught as children that love and happiness trumps money, that is something we forget as we are canon-balled out of high school to undergrad and beyond. The rush to payback student loans 6 months after graduation, if you had any, combined with all of life's other expenses usually makes everyone, me included, jump into the first best paying job they can find, relevant to their degree or not. But success, money, happiness do not always guarantee one another. And this is beyond just old wive's tale reasoning. It can be measured in human behavior.

When looking at economics of a nation there is something called the happiness-income paradox, which is at a certain income level, happiness is dependent on income but once an individual or nation surpasses this level, happiness and income no longer correlate. There are many variations of course, such as individual economic growth will cause large increases of happiness within a developing country, but the more successful the country, the less change the individual will experience. But, although there is an instant gratification and increase in happiness with a raise in income, this is only for a short term happiness and in the long term increases in income after a certain level have no clear effects on happiness or well being.

Why we react this way is because of several reasons. First, human adapt. We will adapt to poor or good situations and they will become our norm. As long as your income allows for bare life, basic human needs to be take care of, if you were to say double your yearly income, you will not notice that much of change for yourself. Of course there is the initial change in lifestyle and perhaps happiness that a doubling of income would provide. And you will make the economically appropriate changes to your life, perhaps bigger house, nicer car, prettier neighborhood, but things will even out. That is to say you will grow accustomed to your surroundings, they won't bring you as much as happiness as they did initially and they will also bring with them added responsibilities and costs. Being in a capitalistic society, we are taught to always desire more and consume more. So no matter where you stand in the economic scale, the step higher always will look better if you allow consumerism to control you. Happiness does not come from more money or things though, but from personal satisfaction we have in our lives, whether it comes from dancing, teaching, parenting, 9-5 work whatever. And although I know we all “know this” I feel like sometimes we need to be reminded from time to time.

Articles of Interest and used in production of blog. (Not an all inclusive list but I try to select articles to include that do not require University library cards)

The Happiness of Nations

Money Buys Happiness, Only to a Point

Global Study: Money Doesn't Buy Happiness

US Richest Nation, But not the Happiest