How do you define happiness? For many people, their level of happiness is based on a comparison of their lifestyle to another’s. If they can keep up with the Jones, then they think they are happy. To them status achievement is the measure of happiness. At the extreme end you will find people who spend money that they don’t have, to buy things they don’t really need, just to impress people they might not even like.
For others, happiness is defined more from the positive feelings they have about themselves which may have little to do with money. It’s more about the level of trust, love, support and respect they receive from friends, family and colleagues. In fact, for these people, money can actually get in the way of the positive feelings they yearn for. At the extreme end of this group are the rare people who might even be willing to endure a life of poverty if it would generate more positive feelings.
The Color of Money
The difference between these two groups of people may lie in the way they perceive the role of money in their life. Certainly, for most people, money is a means to an end. That end for status seekers may be more status, which could mean that can never have enough money. Ben Franklin observed that, “The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” Ben may have been insinuating that these people may never be completely happy.
Other people use money to help them serve a purpose in life, and, while they like the fact that they have money to enjoy a particular lifestyle, they don’t lose sight of the things in life that money can’t buy. For them, money brings satisfaction, but their happiness comes from what they achieve in life.
The Risk of “More”
Most of us have been conditioned throughout our lives to strive ever-upward in pursuit of more. It’s the sole objective of advertisers to make us believe that our lives will be better if we own their product. And, as is fairly typical in our western culture, many people tend to measure their own lifestyle based largely on a comparison with others rather than criteria rooted in personal beliefs and values. In the pursuit of more, people lose sight of what they have which is really the only proof of what they can reasonably expect to produce, both now and in the future. The failure to appreciate the lifestyle we have increases the “risk of more” with absolutely no guarantee of increased happiness.
But for the Sake of What?
If a life of true happiness is possible, it can only be achieved through the pursuit of a purpose draped in your beliefs and values – What is it you truly believe in? What is it you really care about? Without which your life may be simply defined by an endless “pursuit of more” and that can never bring fulfillment. When people don’t have a purpose for the money they accumulate, the natural tendency is to succumb to the pursuit of more, assuming that an incremental upgrade in their lifestyle will somehow make them happier. Only after a soul-robbing number of years in doing this do they realize that the happiness of consumption is short-lived and their lives are still void of any sense of overall well-being.
Try thinking about the time in your life when your income was half of what it is today. We’re you happy then? Chances are you were. Did the increase in money and spending since that time improve your happiness, or did it just create certain situations for you to feel happy in the moment? Looking forward, what will you do with the next 50 percent increase in your income? Will it serve a purpose or will it be added to your life-style? The difference for most people is whether they have a values-centered vision for the future or a momentary desire for “more.”