Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why Money Does Not Increase Happiness

Contrary to our cultures popular beliefs that more is better, especially with regards to money, several studies show this actually isn't so.  And that even, surprisingly, its even the opposite.  That study after study has actually shown that the more money people make, the less they actually enjoy their life outside of work.

So, why then have we all been conditioned to believe that money does buy happiness?  If that isn't so, why are so many of us still chasing such?  And how can it be that this is so incorrect?

As a culture, we are continually urged to buy and consume.  More, more, more.  From the Super Size option at McDonalds, to the double D breasts one can now purchase from a plastic surgeon, to the most monstrous SUV, to the biggest and best juked out beach house along the ocean strip.  We want it all.  More of it, bigger, swankier, pricier. 

Much of this stems from a place of "keeping up with the Jones's," so the speak.  As none of these things actually increase our happiness over the long term.  Instead, we experience a short burst of satisfaction and thrill over the novel item we have acquired.  However, important thing, this soon dies down and out, leaving us at the same relative level of happiness we were before.

What does make people happy?  Both, interpersonal relationships, and experiences.  These are two of the richest sources of fulfillment and joy in life.

Interpersonal relationships are what life is all about.  Look at any movie, book, song, poem, you name it.  One of the main topics ever focused on is love.  And while its usually romantic love we profess about and obsess over, platonic love (as in, close friends, or deep ties to great family members, are equally as fulfilling and joyous).  What reduces the stress of our lives, what makes us feel supported and loved, what makes us feel understood, a major source of fun in our life, as well as inspiration and spawning's of growth, all of this comes from the high quality interpersonal relationships of our life.

And then experiences.  This can be traveling to an awe inspiring locale, taking a thought provoking class, reading a thought-changing (aka life changing) book, learning something new, eating a mouthwateringly delicious meal, going on a heart-pumping adventure with someone you love, feeling swept off your feet by a romantic love.  These are the things we remember.  The experiences.  The aspects of life that make our hearts swell are those which truly burn themselves into our memories.  Not what brand of shirt we wear, or how expensive our car is.  These are the aspects of life that we will revisit time and time again over the years, smiling with nostalgia, longing, and wonder as we do so.

Money is not involved in either of those.  While yes, money can help to fund experiences, it isn't necessarily a crucial aspect of them.  Experiences can be just as moving and memorable and cost absolutely nothing.  A moment of deep connection with someone you love, laughing a lot, seeing spectacular scenery, feeling incredibly loved by someone special in your life, etc.  So much richness of life doesn't cost anything at all.

And in fact, studies show that over focus on money can take away from these very things.  And that additionally, in some ways, it decreases happiness.

Its true, there is a minimal amount of money that one needs to feel secure.  If a person lives in poverty, this is immensely stressful and certainly detracts from the quality of ones life, in more ways than one.  However, assuming one has an average salary on which to live, has their basic needs met (food, decent shelter, health insurance), with a little bit left over, this is what one needs to be happy.

And numerous studies show that once someone makes more money than this, their happiness levels do not increase.  They may feel a short boost of thrill, but this subsides soon thereafter.  Usually replaced by a hunger for even more money (yearning to feel that same boost again).

So, here are several reasons why money does not increase happiness:

--As humans, we tend to always want more.  We often think, once I get that raise, then I will be happy.  Once I am making $100k instead of 80k, then I will be happy.  Shocker?  Not so.  You may experience a temporary boost of excitement and satisfaction when it initially happens.  Then, your happiness level will peter back out and return to whatever it was before.  Nothing really changes.  

--Many people think they want to make more money in order to be able to enjoy their lives outside of work further (better vacations, more material goods, etc).  In fact though, study after study has shown that the more money people make, the less time they have to enjoy their life outside their job.  With more money often comes longer hours, greater responsibility, far more expectations, stress, and pressure.  Companies use money as the dangling carrot to entice people to put in more hours.  This leaves less and less time to actually revel in and experience your life outside of work.

--A study by Berkeley showed that money actually brings unhappiness.  In a Capitalist society, people generally believe that richer is better, but that is not what this study found at all.  You can read time and time again, of the rich man or woman who "has it all," in terms of money and material goods, and yet the rest of their life is empty.  Void of meaningful connections or much joy outside of work, because they don't tend to have time for any of it.  They've chosen their job and money as the priority.  So while they have loads of money, they are lonely and mostly miserable.  This is of course, not a blanket truth of the rich.  Not even close.  But it tends to be accurate quite often.

--There is also research on moneys impact on our overall happiness over the big picture.  Princeton researcher and 2002 Novel Prize winner, Kahneman (PhD) says that money does not bring about happiness.  That people overrate the joy inducing affect of money.  He says that increases in income have a relatively brief affect on life happiness, as well as psychological studies showing that the wealthier people are, the more intense negative emotions they experience.  So, as you can see, these studies do not link wealth with greater incidence of happiness.  

Yes, having enough to live on, with a bit left over to do some things you enjoy, is important in terms of feeling joy and satisfaction with life.  Not having enough money to live on is incredibly distressing and disheartening.  However, past that point, more money adds nothing to your overall actual life satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness.  And in fact, in many ways, it can even take away from or decrease it.  Be careful when you feel yourself hungering for more and more and more.  There is a good chance you are focusing on the wrong life priorities, if this is the case.  Ones that will not actually bring you happiness to any lasting or resounding degree.

Instead, focus on the wonder of being alive, of experiencing life day to day.  Being alive is rather astounding and awesome, in and of itself.  Whether that's being fully present in the moment while kissing someone you love.  Witnessing an astounding natural scene, or eating an incredible meal. Shooting down the mountain on skis, the sweet solitude, arresting scenery, and adrenaline from the speed, all filling you up inside.  Feeling a deeply resonating and fulfilling moment of connection with someone for whom you care.  Hugging and holding your beloved pet.  Being engaged in an activity that fills you will passion, joy, and a sense of meaning.  Reading a book that either inspires or grips you.  The list goes on and on. 

These are the types of moments (not the # on your paycheck, or the fanciest pair of shoes, or the fastest car, all of which lose their appeal after that short, momentary burst that happens in the beginning of receiving such) that bring both happiness in the moment, and major life satisfaction, both in the short term, as well as lasting and over the long term. 

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