Money doesn’t make people happy; it is simply a means to an end. Imagine your emotional state being tied to the level of the stock market. The markets go up, then down, then up again, then down once more. Sometimes they soar unrealistically high, while other times they fall unreasonably low. If the market, or interest rates, or the economic outlook, or even your net worth were to dictate your emotions and outlook on life, you would be a basket case.
Numerous studies have shown that money doesn’t make people happy. If you were to pick a number, as large as you like, then find someone with that amount of money and ask them if they are rich, chances are they would tell you they are not. They probably feel that they will be rich when they have a little more than twice as much as they have now. And they will probably still feel that they need twice as much, even after their assets have doubled.
Human beings are extremely adaptable. We need a certain minimum to be able to survive, but after our needs are met, we can learn to live with whatever means we have. Perhaps that’s why as people’s income rises, their expenses also rise and there is rarely any change in the amount of money left over (or owing) at the end of the month.
Since money doesn’t make us happy, the decision to be happy is separate from other money-related decisions. It isn’t enough to take care of your money and expect that happiness will follow. The decisions you make to work toward happiness can create a framework within which you make your money decisions. Keeping your finances on track then frees you to spend time on the things that are more meaningful to you.
There are two ways to live life: by default and on purpose. Living life by default means doing what comes easiest. It seems that many people drift into a career not necessarily by choice, but based on the job they are able to get and the people they know. Sometimes people make choices based on what they think is expected of them. Then they get into a routine and do the same things each week, each month and each year, until the time has flown by. It has been suggested that up to 95% of our actions are the results of habits.
Living life on purpose means having a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Life won’t necessarily cooperate or make it easy for you, and your vision may change, based on things you learn and discover. But you still have a purpose that motivates your choices and your actions. Your life has the meaning that you choose or create. I believe all human beings have the potential to continually grow and improve. Whether or not you agree, keep these ideas in mind as you visualise your future and set your goals.
Benjamin Franklin wisely said: “Does’t thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Having a meaningful life is the result of spending as much of your time as possible doing things that are meaningful.
It is not easy to define what gives life meaning. Different cultures and different religions have provided various suggestions. I think the following two examples hint at a synthesis. Abraham Maslow suggested a hierarchy of needs that, after physical needs and safety, describes the need for love, affection and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, spoke about fulfilling childhood dreams of your own and helping others to fulfill their dreams. Following these ideas, I believe that human beings find meaning in the following ways. First, by taking care of ourselves. We need to become independent and work for our own physical, mental and emotional health. Physical exercise, developing emotional control and intellectual learning can be very rewarding. Further, most healthy people value the relationships they have with family and friends. Beyond the rewards of improving ourselves and deepening our relationship with others, lies the highest level of Maslow’s “needs.” He talked about being what you were born to be. As examples, artists need to paint, poets need to write, musicians need to make music. Randy Pausch figured the indicator for this was a person’s childhood dreams. When we live our childhood dreams, we live a life worth living.
The common thread I find through all of these is: growing and creating. Whether we create beauty or functionality, rewarding relationships or a better self, human beings seem to find meaning in growing and creating. Life can be so rewarding. Find the things that are most meaningful to you and spend as much of your time as possible doing meaningful things. Use your money to serve your purposes.
Please share in the comments the things that make your life meaningful.