“Money can’t buy happiness” is a faulty statement, one that is easily taken to mean that money does not play a role in our happiness. Well, it does, quite significantly too. Try being broke, desperately hungry or homeless and see how happy you’ll be.
What the statement really should be is ‘Money does not guarantee happiness’. And as a means of exchange to get what we need, it was never meant to guarantee happiness.
Ideally, this is how the money-happiness relationship should work:
First, we make money to pay for a measure of security – food, shelter, clothing, small comforts.
Second, having a measure of security aka ‘the basics’ means you can comfortably divert energy toward cultivating a life of meaning, which is the point of everything. (Let’s not kid ourselves, people who lack these basics typically don’t have the presence of mind or the time to live a purposeful existence – they’re usually chasing money.)
Where do we get things wrong?
Somewhere between the first and the second steps, we lose the plot and get caught up in the pursuit of security, mistaking it for happiness. But security is a foundation, not the building itself. There’s only so much comfort one can take in having a secure life, and after the umpteenth pair of shoes or another trip abroad, we will see no significant change in how happy we are. It’s a classic case of diminishing returns.
What’s the bottom line?
Money can buy happiness, but only to a certain extent. Get enough of it to give you breathing room, then get to the business of making a difference in the world.
Excerpted from Issue 13 of relea:se, my bimonthly newsletter. Join the mailing list.