What do you want to experience most in your life? Ask this question to enough people and you will find happiness to be one answer that comes up more than any other. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find that many people believe happiness is directly tied to money. Can money really provide lasting happiness?
Money CAN make us happy - temporarily
Yes, it turns out that money can make us happy. However, the happiness we get from the items money can buy is fleeting, it lasts for a period of time and then diminishes or goes away entirely. True and lasting happiness can’t be achieved through money.
My pursuit of happiness
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I instinctively began pursuing the things I hoped would make me happy.
It was a journey of self-discovery. I discovered that although a material possession could make me happy for a period of time, it would eventually lose its ability to keep me happy. Happiness came and went with every item I bought.
What surprised me and eventually made me take notice, was realizing that the frequency and the degree of my happiness diminished rather than increase with every additional purchase I made.
Buying more things meant I had to make more money, so I overcommitted myself to work to grow my income. I also used credit cards to buy things I wanted but couldn’t afford. All this was motivated by my desire to increase my happiness, which I believed would happen with a better lifestyle.
I continued to increase my income thinking my happiness would increase equally. I worked more to make more so I can buy more, only to find that the more things I bought the less fulfilled and less happy I became.
Four years into my pursuit I lost my job, which forced me to take a hard look at myself and what I was doing with my life. I must admit, had I not lost my job, I would have continued my pursuit, believing that eventually, I would gain enough money to satisfy every want and that would make me happy.
Losing my job was depressing, but the truth is I had been feeling miserable and unfulfilled way before that happened. I was living a selfish life. My purpose was self-gratification and it left me feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Pursuing money to buy more things will not lead to happiness
We acquire money and buy things for the pleasure we expect them to bring. On one hand, this actually works. Getting what we want results in happiness - for a moment. Then it diminishes again. Much research and many studies have proven that having money and acquiring things doesn't directly lead to lasting happiness. In fact, it will have the opposite effect.
Take Ebenezer Scrooge for example. In Dickens fictional yet true to life story, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is an extremely wealthy man, yet he’s a miserable and selfish person that cares only about himself and making more money.
Scrooge's life’s purpose is the pursuit of money, and this pursuit negatively affects the way he behaves with other people. More importantly, he himself is unhappy and unfulfilled, although he’s unaware of this until he’s faced with a different perspective on his life.
Paul Piff, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of California, Irvine, has been studying how money changes us and our relationship with each other. He says, "The more money you have, the more focused on yourself you become, and less-sensitive to the welfare of people around you.”
Money can lead to happiness, but only when used to fulfill a greater purpose
It’s not money that’s the issue here. As we see in the life of Scrooge when his purpose was the pursuit of money, people around him suffered and he did nothing to alleviate that suffering. The pursuit of money increased his own selfishness, further damaging his relationships and making him more miserable and unhappy.
However, when his purpose changed to caring for people, he started using money to fulfill that purpose. This produced happiness in his own life, as much as, or perhaps even more than it did in the lives of those he helped. He began valuing people more than hoarding money, proving that money can lead to happiness, but only when used to fulfill a greater purpose.
One of life’s biggest challenges is making sure our life’s purpose doesn’t become a never-ending pursuit for the next thing that will make us happy. That’s a losing proposition, and it will not result in lasting happiness.
Your purpose and your happiness are tied to how you love, serve, and help other people using every resource you possess. That’s a life worth living. Scrooge found his purpose, and we can too.
Do you know your life’s purpose? As it relates to money, what are you doing to better position yourself to fulfill your life’s purpose?