Does Money Buy Happiness?

Sponge Bob

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Ask that question of anyone and the most common answer will be an emphatic “NO!”. But as actions speak louder than words, our behavior often tells a different story.

Look at the news headlines and the content of so many “how to” books, magazines, TV programs and articles; they deal with every imaginable nuance of all things money. Look as well at the number of financial crimes, and we can see how far some people are willing to go to get more of it. It’s clear we have an interest in money that goes way beyond casual.

At what point does our interest in money go too far? When we come to see money as the measure of all things; when we start to believe that money can buy happiness.

Money has it’s place, and it’s important to be sure. But so is the realization of it’s limits. Like our talents, skills, and contacts, money is a tool that can be used to make our lives better. However, true happiness is found in areas of our lives that often have little to do with money.

What are some things money truly can’t buy?

Health

Maintaining good health is one of those fortunate areas of life that doesn’t require a lot of money to maintain. A healthy lifestyle is a choice far more than it is a line item in the household budget. Walking, jogging, biking, yoga, calisthenics, push-ups—most basic exercises require far more in the way of personal commitment and physical energy than they do money.

How about diet? It can be argued that you can buy healthier foods with a bigger wallet, but for most of us in the Western world, good eating habits are mostly about eating less. If anything, eating less means spending LESS money, not more.

Conversely, we can decide to pursue wealth and completely ignore our health in the process. We can work so hard, so diligently to attain success—and even attract a flock of admirers and followers as we do—that we can sacrifice our health along the way.

Once lost, health cannot be “bought back”, no matter how much money is poured into it.

Friendship

A life filled with true friends is a life well lived. How much money does it take to have a friend? None. In fact, it can be argued that money often attracts people who mostly look like friends, but aren’t.

All it takes to have a friend is to be a friend, and any of us can do that without having or spending a dime. More than anything else, friendships are established by common interests, time spent together and by the expression of genuine concern. Those are qualities we’re all capable of providing, and money has nothing at all to do with it.

Just like with health, there’s can be an opportunity cost if we too closely connect money and friendships. We can neglect the need for friends as we pursue money, which will make the climb to wealth an especially lonely journey. Or we can convince ourselves that friendships are the reason we pursue money, under the misguided notion that people will like us better if we’re richer. The reality is that they won’t like us better, but they might like our money.

You can be surrounded by a lot of people in that situation, and still be very alone. A friend who’d abandon you if you went broke is no friend at all. A good friend however, requires no money at all.

Fulfilling work

Is work all about money? If you had a choice, would you rather work at your true calling—what ever it might be—or would you rather make a lot of money? Many in our culture chose making a lot of money.

In truth, we could all work at our true calling if money wasn’t the ultimate force guiding our career choices. Depending on what that calling is, we might not even need to sacrifice income to pursue it. Many experts claim that if we follow our passions, the money will come–eventually.

It’s hard not to make a complete connection between work and money, but if the drive for higher earnings becomes the main career metric, we could be missing out on finding our true calling and actually enjoying work.

A fast track career means progressively higher income, promotions with more stress, lifestyle inflation, and a bigger investment in a retirement plan to support us when we finally decide to throw in the towel. But always aspiring for more has a way of marginalizing contentment, which is the ultimate state we all seek to live in.

There might be sizeable material loss from dropping out of a career path to do work you truly enjoy, but that loss may be offset by substantial non-monetary benefits including:

“¢ working at something that doesn’t feel like work
“¢ working at something you won’t feel the need to escape from through retirement
“¢ a life in which work itself provides the satisfaction you now seek from the things money can buy
“¢ more control of your time
“¢ a better blending of work and personal life

So perhaps even work isn’t entirely about money either, not if we can find happiness in the work itself.

True independence

Many of us connect independence to money. But is that really a valid connection?

One of the problems with money as a means to independence is that it’s often a swap of one form of dependence for another. For example, money may free us from the threat of starvation or discomfort, but in doing so it often makes us more dependent on money itself. We may trade fear of poverty for fear of the loss of a certain income level, or of the loss of a certain investment portfolio value. Those fears bring us anything but independence and can instead be incredibly confining.

We don’t need a lot of money in order to achieve independence. Independence can come from:

  1. an ability to live within your means
  2. an absence of debt
  3. sufficient savings to survive for several months
  4. good health
  5. a lack of attachment to possessions
  6. an ability to manage limited resources
  7. transferability of skills
  8. work that you love that you feel no need to escape from
  9. strong social connections
  10. the absence of a need to always have more

Having a solid degree of each of these qualities can bring us a level of independence that money can’t buy. None of these requires money to attain either, with the exception of #3, and that certainly doesn’t require anything close to being rich.

Often, it’s the sense of independence that we seek in the quest for money. It’s almost ironic then that we can get caught up in the chase for more money when true independence can be had any time we choose to pursue it in its true form.

Kevin At Out of Your RutThis post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog OutOfYourRut.com.

What do you think? Do we need a lot of money to be happy? And let me restate a question asked above: If you had a choice, would you rather work at your true calling—what ever it might be—or would you rather make a lot of money?

(Sponge Bob—is there a happier character ever conceived with less concern for money???)

Photo courtesy of Realtor Susan

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