Dissecting our thirst for wealth and stability in the pursuit of happiness
“Money isn’t everything”.
This phrase has appeared time and again throughout my life from lotto winners on the news to billionaire celebrities who claim to value the art of their work over the opportunity for complete financial freedom. Therefore, it is common for most people to state some variation of the same concept; having excess cash doesn’t always improve their overall happiness.
It’s easy for someone with a lot of money to say that “money isn’t everything”. But to many others, it could be the deciding factor in accessing fundamental basics like food, water, and transportation-resources most of us take for granted.
In reality money is a medium of exchange. And in simpler terms, money is just a promise.
The problem is that we are taught very conflicting ideologies about money’s role in our lives. To be considered successful we are directed to chase money relentlessly. We lust for it, seeking out the highest paying jobs and then growing discontent when we don’t get a raise for more. We crave the power to buy new cars and clothes that adequately display our status. Salaries are a common topic of discussion in social settings, acting as a point of envy or admiration.
So is it possible to live a fulfilling life that includes money but doesn’t necessarily depend on it?
The short answer is yes. Here’s how you can do it.
Breaking The Cycle
I listened to a Podcast recently featuring internet lifestyle star and professional gambler Dan Bilzerian. Whatever your opinion on him may be, he had some very interesting thoughts on money and how much happiness it can bring someone when you have it on an endless supply. Bilzerian explains that when he was younger there was a specific Mustang he desired. So he saved up money and was eventually able to buy it.
This brought him very high levels of joy. Now that he is rich, it takes a lot more to get back to that level of happiness. He’s already purchased every sports car he desires, traveled the world, and eaten from world renowned chefs, so nothing truly excites him anymore. But giving an average person just a taste of his lavish lifestyle would instantly boost their happiness higher than his can go because its ceiling has been lowered.
I’d be lying if I said my first real paycheck or the $6.87 I made from my first Medium story wasn’t met with a wave of excitement and gratitude. It acted as tangible evidence rewarding me for years hard work.
However, we need to be honest and see money for what it really is; a substitute for real things. Money in itself walks the line of an illusion, holding a promise of value coupled with the expectation that someone will respect that promise in return for something else. If I locked you in a room with one billion dollars you would technically be wealthy. But without any way to spend it, the money is worthless.
While money does provide the opportunity to build a better life, it can’t buy family, friends, health, or more happiness (to a degree).
Finding a productive middle ground is the key.
Money cannot buy peace of mind. It cannot heal ruptured relationships, or build meaning into a life that has none.- Richard DeVos
Fulfilling Our Journey With Other Endeavors
“Within very wide bands, more money doesn’t make people happier. Learning how to think about money, though, usually does.”- Seth Godin
I have always found it rather interesting that the more money we obtain, the more we desire to spend. If you’re making $5,000,000 per year, our society would consider that a very sustainable salary. But making a large salary often leads to higher spending habits. If the same person making $5,000,000 per year loses there job, then they aren’t really wealthy at all.
Entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin looks at money as a story in his blog, explaining that it is still a fairly new form of trade. In the past, one commodity like milk would be traded for another commodity like corn. Both the sender and receiver would be enriched with an item of necessity. Now our form of exchange lies in the abstract financial world that money has created.
Therefore, it is important to prioritize what is important to you. It doesn’t matter if everyone else in your life positions wealth as the gold standard of success. Maybe traveling or painting is far more rewarding. Maybe spending time with your family and friends means more to you than an emotionless job that simply serves as a means to make money.
In the 4-Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferris discusses a low point in his life after quitting his second unfulfilling job. In these moments he decides to take a different mentality towards life; beating the game, not playing the game. He uses this concept to win a medal at the Chinese Kickboxing National Championship- he read the rules and looked to exploit them.
Ferris then goes on to describe how our way of thinking about money is outdated, as we tend to lean on it as a scapegoat:
“There is so much to be said for the power of money as currency, but adding more of it just isn’t the answer as often as we’d like to think. In part, it’s laziness. ‘If only I had more money’ is the easiest way to postpone the intense self-examination and decision-making necessary to create a life of enjoyment- now and not later.”
Life is about balance.
I’m sure there are plenty of people with lots of money who are unhappy. There are also plenty of people with medium levels of money and no money at all who are very happy.
We should strive to find other factors that contribute to happiness, while still making enough money to live comfortably. Try not to think of your career as a pursuit of more money, but as a pursuit of knowledge and experiences. If you hate your job, have no leisure time, and consistently feel stressed and out of touch, consider taking action. Build relationships with your co-workers, request new projects that align with what you enjoy, or take a leap of faith and start building a reputation elsewhere.
Derive meaning from your life that exists outside the realm of income, and remember that money in itself does not hold much value.