Can You "Afford" to be Happy?
Garret D. Evans, Psy.D.
Does money make us happy? Better yet, does having more money make us happier? We've probably all thought about these questions from time to time. Most of us have imagined what it would be like to trade places with someone rich and famous. We imagine a life where we could have almost anything we want, where people would recognize and appreciate us more, where we would be happier. It's understandable to think that having more money makes a person happier.
You might be surprised to know that research shows that people with more money are no happier than people with less money. Think about the wealthiest people you know or have heard of. Think of all the celebrities, sports stars, and wealthy individuals who have gone through divorce, drug addiction and depression. Are these people really happier than the rest of us? Howard Hughes was one of the richest men the world had ever known yet he died alone, depressed, and terribly unhappy.
How Important is Money?
No-one can really answer that question for you. It's true that more money can make the everyday struggles of life easier to handle. Indeed, money has an important place in our society. However, when asked to identify the keys to their happiness, most people put money far down the list. Here are some examples of other things that people commonly say are their "keys to happiness":
* Good relationships with family
* Strong friendships
* Good health
* Healthy marriage
* Sense of accomplishment
* Interesting activities (sports, hobbies, music, etc.)
How about you? Where does money fit on your list? Test your self. Look at the list above and pick one item that would be most important to your happiness. Add other items if you would like. Ask yourself these questions: "Would I like to be rich but in poor health?" "Would I like to drive a brand new car but have a terrible relationship with my children or parents?" Go through the rest of the list. What's really important to you. After you have picked the one item that is most important for your happiness, pick the second most important item. Keep going until you've listed all the items.
Money Doesn't Equal Accomplishments
Unfortunately, too many of us measure our achievements, even our self-worth, in terms of the amount of money we make. We should all avoid falling into this trap. Isn't teaching a child to read and write an important accomplishment? How about leading a church congregation or even a nation? Many teachers, pastors, and politicians could make more money in other professions yet they are fulfilled by the sense of accomplishment that comes with helping others.
Having money isn't the only sign that someone has accomplished something valuable. In fact, while living with less money can offer unique challenges, it also provides a real opportunity for greater achievement. Think about it this way. What's more challenging and satisfying, buying a new coffee table or spending time and energy on refinishing an old one? Which would make you more proud? Sometimes it's the simple activities like mending a sock, putting a nutritious meal on the table with a limited budget, or comforting someone who needs our help that reminds us how important we are.
For Those Still Shopping
Still not convinced? Try one more exercise. Think about the happiest moment of your life. Was it when you bought something new or was it a special moment like the birth of a child, a special time with a loved one, or accomplishing a major goal? Go one step further. Ask yourself this: "When do I feel most content, happy, and at peace?" Maybe it's a walk in the woods, relaxing in special place, playing with your children, or talking with friends or relatives. While buying something new often makes us happy for a short period of time, it's the "simpler" pleasures in life that often provide greater, and longer-lasting, happiness.
What's the Real Message?
It's that happiness can't be bought or sold. It doesn't come gift wrapped or marked down 10 percent. It isn't in the money you make, whose name is on your clothing, or how you get around town. Happiness is in your accomplishments. It's in the strength and happiness of the children you raise, the friendships you make, and the love you share with others.
1. This document is Fact Sheet FCS 2115, a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: April 1997. Please visit the EDIS web site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Garret D. Evans, Psy.D., associate professor, Clinical Psychology, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.