Looking back on 2005, I realize that much of what I heard -- and what the media said -- turned out to be myths. Newsweek reported that U.S. interrogators had flushed a Koran down a Guantanamo Bay toilet. After Hurricane Katrina, reporters said that sharks from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through New Orleans, and roving bands of armed gang members were attacking the helpless. Myth after myth. So to celebrate the new year, I'd like to review my top 10 list of foolish myths. (ABC will broadcast a televised version of this column in "20/20"'s timeslot Friday night.):
No. 10: Americans have less free time than we used to.
No. 9. Money buys happiness.
No. 8: Republicans shrink government.
No. 7: The world is getting too crowded.
No. 6. Chemicals are killing us.
No. 5: Guns are bad.
No. 4: We're drowning in garbage.
No. 3: We're destroying our forests.
No. 2: Getting cold will give you a cold.
No. 1: Life is getting worse.
A few of these myths have some truth behind them. For two or three billion people in the world trying to eke out a living on a dollar or two a day, money would buy some happiness. If you can't feed your family, money makes a big difference. But in America, research suggests that once your income reaches $50,000, more money won't make you happier. People say they'd be happier if they "just made 20 percent more," but "happiness researchers" tell me that such happiness quickly fades. A survey of 49 of the Forbes richest found they weren't any happier than the rest of us. One expert put it this way: "Even though no one can be blessedly happy without external goods" -- such as money and the things it can buy -- "we must not think that to be happy we will need many large goods." It was Aristotle who said that, and he was right.
"Look at all the billionaires," recording executive Russell Simmons told me. "If I know 15 billionaires, I know 13 unhappy people."
What does bring happiness? Marriage (not always, obviously, but on average, married people rate themselves happier than singles), deep friendships, belief in God, and purposeful work. Aristotle was right again: So long as you have the resources you need to take care of yourself and do good deeds, it's your own actions, and particularly the noble ones, that make you happy.
Money makes all sorts of actions possible, beginning with staying alive. But it's the actions that make us happy.