Post No.: 0158
Money is important to us for our survival and (for some more than others) our self-esteem. Money and a job can bring about a sense of security too, and hence life satisfaction. It should really be about the resources it affords though hence one can think laterally when it’s framed this way (e.g. can your children carpool with others to get to school and back, and split this arrangement with a neighbour or two, rather than you always taking them yourself using your own vehicle and fuel?)
According to 2008-2009 data from the US, experiential happiness (which we cannot fake because it’s not coloured by how we believe we ought to feel about our life overall but how we report we feel at a given present moment or day when just thinking about the present moment or day) virtually flattens completely after we earn above about $60,000-75,000 per year. But life satisfaction can continue to increase beyond this amount due to our rationalisations and social comparisons (which we can select via our own perceptions and interpretations i.e. we could instead opt to compare to those who are far worse off than us rather than those who are supposedly better off than us, and this will likely make us feel less envious and more content with what we’ve got).
So experiential happiness has a limit. One way to look at it is that you can’t laugh harder than your hardest laugh. In fact, it starts to hurt once you reach this limit! And having more money after a certain point won’t itself make you laugh any more frequently or harder. You won’t want a stomach that’s fuller than full enough, or you won’t want to be warmer than warm enough, and so on. And although life satisfaction does not have a limit, these evaluations are based on our perspectives – so choose better ones. After all, you’ve probably got creature comforts and other cool things that even queens and emperors of the past didn’t have, including the device you’re reading this blog through!
This is not to say that people who earn less than $60,000-75,000 per year (adjusting for inflation) are guaranteed to be progressively less happy, although financial stress and worries can steadily increase under this amount, which is subtly different because it means that people can be (and many people evidently are) happy with less than this amount if they can manage their stress well (e.g. by managing their health and finances better). Well the richest nations of the world on a per capita basis empirically aren’t reliably the happiest nations of the world on a per capita basis, and some individuals with not much materially to their names are very content because they’ve found a sustainable way to live within their means and fortunately find joy in the simpler pleasures in life – so there’s far more to life and happiness than just money. Woof!
The same seems to occur with house sizes – we tend to think the larger our house is the happier we’ll become with no limit to this correlation, but if we get a house that’s larger than our genuine needs, we can feel temporarily happier but soon hedonically adapt back to our old happiness levels. Buying luxuries does make one feel happier, but only for a moment, so one may feel like one must constantly buy new luxuries to keep getting those temporary dopamine hits; like a smoker and nicotine. But we know that’s not healthy or sustainable, for ourselves or the planet.
Many people don’t believe all this research about money having a limit to buying happiness, but this might be like many people don’t believe that one can have a socially good time without getting drunk off their faces(!) Maybe they haven’t tried it or they have but they expected failure and therefore made failure happen because our expectations shape our emotions and feelings. Happiness, like its loose antonym pain, is ultimately constructed in one’s own mind and personal reality – the emotion doesn’t have a tidy one-to-one correlation with what’s in the external world. A corpse with a billion dollars feels nothing because it has no mind, and a joyful person feels joy regardless of whether he/she is blind, paraplegic or has only just enough, and a little bit more for security, to survive – who is to dispute a relatively poor person if he/she says he/she’s happy, and who is to dispute a relatively rich person if he/she says he/she’s depressed?! One only has to look around to see real-world evidence of this in people with various levels of wealth.
So happiness is simply a state of mind, a perspective, that isn’t perfectly correlated with whatever’s happening outside of this mind (“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”). And happiness is happiness however it comes, however it’s created – whether it comes ‘naturally’ or is somehow ‘manufactured’ through purposely training oneself to think with more adaptive thoughts (just like strong people are strong whether they’re naturally born that way or they purposely trained themselves to be so, and we wouldn’t say the latter are ‘inauthentically’ strong – they’re simply strong). If they truly feel it, we cannot say a person’s happiness isn’t real, just like we cannot say a person’s depression isn’t real.
This all also reminds us that we should practise being more mindful and present because our experiential happiness is often much better than our perception of our life satisfaction (e.g. if you have fun hanging out with your friends then be engrossed in this happiness rather than have your mind wander on thoughts like ‘they earn more than me’ or ‘they’re already married and I haven’t yet’).
If a person feels happy and receives lots of love from the friends and family in their life then that will really be the true reason why they’re happy – not all that money they have, as long as they technically have enough to live on; which is the point of this post – we need enough money but not unlimited amounts because there’s a limit to trying to buy happiness. In other words, a person with all the money in the world but no loving relationships won’t likely feel happy, and a person with enough money to live securely on and is sensible with their money but has lots of loving relationships will likely feel happy i.e. the main factor is social love and support. One can obviously have both, but the main happiness factor is the love, not the money.
Also, if one is constantly trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and grumbles about what other people materially have then one’s life must logically be great because if one is so concerned about material status symbols then one mustn’t have worse things in one’s life to be concerned about (you wouldn’t be thinking about these things if you were lying on a hospital bed); or one’s priorities are completely wrong, which is a common reason why some financially rich people are highly stressed and not as happy as they could be. Enough should be enough. The silly, superficial or petty things we feel annoyed or jealous about can reveal how lucky we really actually are! (For more about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, please read Post No.: 0104.)
Once you earn enough (or even if you don’t quite) – maximise your health and social relationships where possible before you stress over earning even more. That’s if you truly want to explore the limit of your happiness. I’m not saying don’t be ambitious or don’t take measured risks to do something greater but those ambitious goals should focus on more meaningful targets, where the potential personal riches will be just a side-effect rather than the main aim. Don’t say you’re ‘doing it for your children’ as you simultaneously spend less time with them(!) The media is full of stories about people who’ve directly aimed to become rich and got rich, but that’s a skew in reporting because all the stories of those who directly aimed for it but failed seldom get covered for being ‘non-events’. But again, it’s not about not being driven if you want to be but about not sacrificing your health or social relationships over it. And no one’s saying one should get financially taken advantage of in business even though getting rich isn’t one’s number one focus.
Woof. Do you (still) believe that you must be at least a millionaire in order to feel essentially as experientially happy as you could ever feel? Or if you are then do you believe you’ve not reached that limit yet and never will? Will the sunset suddenly become more glorious? Will you automatically become healthier and more loved (by people who aren’t just there for your money)? Will that comedy suddenly become funnier? Will the smile or cuddle from your partner or pet suddenly become warmer? If so, let us know by using the Twitter comment button below!