Is Chasing Money Costing You Happiness?

by Ashley Stetts

I personally came from very modest beginnings. My parents were young, in love and working as restaurant servers when I came to be. I was never made to feel like we didn’t have money because we had enough. Sure, my parents divorced and that didn’t make me happy, and kids made fun of me because I would wear the same clothes all the time and that didn’t make me happy – but I don’t think that having more affluent parents would have really made me any happier.

The likelihood of divorce for my parents would have been the same - higher income, or not - and kids would have found something else to bug me about, and although my quality of life would have been different, I wouldn’t have been happier.

I knew that as a kid, so I can’t help but wonder why there’s this overwhelming general idea that more money and more materialistic possessions equal more happiness for Americans.  Like if you have two million dollars instead of one million dollars, you must be two times happier. In actuality, a recent poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found that $50,000 is the income level where, over that amount, you do not become any happier. Why?

Well, you are working longer hours and sacrificing time with your friends and family, and therefore, your personal relationships suffer. You don’t have time to work out, so you gain weight, and now you’re unhappy with your body and never feel like the best version of yourself. You start looking at time in terms of dollar signs, and therefore, feel like it just makes more sense to spend that time further accumulating more wealth at the expense of things that will actually bring you joy and fulfillment, but is chasing more money costing you happiness?

Think about what really makes YOU happy. Is it that new dress you were so excited about but only wore once because everyone saw you in it on Facebook? Is it having an incredibly expensive car that no one else has (until someone else in your neighborhood gets it too)? It’s human nature to chase happiness, but you’ll never catch sustainable happiness until you change your perception of money’s role and importance in getting you there.

On top of that, do you really think that rich people are lounging at beach clubs drinking piña coladas? This may be true if they’re on a one-week vacation or they’re 75 and retired, but the more likely truth is that rich people spend a majority of their days in high-stress situations glued to their phones and being physically and mentally worn out. I’m sure that’s not how most people would define warm fuzzy happiness.

I think it’s pretty easy to identify the things that make people genuinely happy. Self love. Feeling connected and loved by others. Feeling like you’re growing as a person. Gratitude.

So where does the confusion come from? Well, we live in a world that congratulates people for being success driven, as well as a society that assesses a person’s worth by how much money they bring in. That high you get from the promotion or the bigger office satisfies the need inside of us to feel loved and accepted. Unfortunately, many then adjust their spending to reflect that increase in income and are stuck constantly chasing the feeling of accomplishment and worthiness.

You become insatiable. Think about it: when you’re first starting out, you are so happy to live in an apartment that has laundry in the basement of the building, but once you’re rich, you’re not happy unless you have the best washing machine money can buy. You risk becoming ungrateful and are always left yearning for more – two of the biggest happiness suckers out there.

It’s a slippery slope, my friends. So the question becomes, how do we shift our perspective? I saw an interview with Suze Orman recently where she stated, “Money is the currency of life. It is there to teach you about yourself.” She went on to explain that you need to use money as a teacher to discover who you really are. I’m not saying to get rid of your ambition or to not strive to be successful if you want to be happy, but to become more conscious of how you define success for yourself.

For example, success might simply mean being a good friend or mother, or being compassionate and giving back to your community, as opposed to having a higher job title or bigger home. Learn to find as much pleasure in saving your money to invest in things that actually bring you joy and fulfillment as you do in spending it on things that leave you feeling empty. Shifting your perception may take some work, but when you’re working on your happiness, it’s always worthwhile.

The Frugal Model

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