All my life I've been told you can't buy happiness, and I must say I used to believe it. But lately I've changed my mind.

Money can buy happiness and usually does.

Take my friends the Schmicks. They're poor, honest, hard-working people. All they have is each other, and they're miserable.

Then take my friends the Smugs -- he's a banker, she inherited money from her father. They live on Park Avenue in the winter and in East Hampton in the summer, unless they go abroad. Everything they do costs money, and you won't find two happier people anywhere.

The Schmicks live in a small apartment in Brooklyn in the winter, and they vacation in the same small apartment in Brooklyn in the summer. When they really get desperate, they go to Far Rockaway for a swim.

Once Mr. Schmick said to me, "We may not have all the comforts and pleasures of the rich, but do you think that makes us unhappy? You bet your sweet life it does."

The Smugs, on the other hand, wouldn't have it any other way.

Mr. Smug told me, one night when he had a few drinks too many, "You know, when I was young, I was in love with a poor girl who worked as a secretary. I was poor too and we were going to be married. Then I met my wife who was rich, so I decided to marry her. You know something? I bumped into that poor girl a few weeks ago, and she had gone all to pieces. It takes money for a woman to keep looking young. I was sure glad I married the rich girl."

The Smugs are not happy all the time. Sometimes they fight and then Mrs. Smug flies off to California to visit friends. But the Schmicks fight, too. Only, when they get into a quarrel. Mrs. Schmick has no place to go, so they yell at each other until the police come. Last year, the Schmicks were fined $30 for disturbing the peace.

The Smugs entertain a lot of important and influential people who accept their invitations because the Smugs are rich. The Schmicks can only afford to entertain relatives they don't like, who complain afterwards about the food and liquor.

When it comes to children, the Smugs and Schmicks also differ.

Smug told me, "We have two children. We've given them the best of everything. Private schools, riding lessons, tennis lessons, catered parties -- we've bought everything for them that money will buy and they're smart, happy, contented children."

Schmick, on the other hand, told me, "We haven't been able to give our children anything but love and devotion -- and they hate us."

Smug told me, "I've tried to impress onthe children the importance of being rich and the great benefits that can be derived from having money. They know exactly what I'm talking about, and they respect me for my wisdon."

Schmick said, "I tell my kids money isn't everything. There are some values in life that are much more important, such as love, friendship and family. And you know what they do? They go around the neighborhood and tell everyone, 'Our father is nuts.'"

And so it goes with Smugs and Schmicks -- economically, socially, intellectually they are poles apart. But because they live in America, the land of opportunity, the only difference between them is that the Smugs are happy and the Schmicks are not.