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Buying Money...With Happiness


"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success."



Adam is on the court playing tennis in his back yard. He really enjoys tennis and was able to build a house to fit his needs after building a successful business over 25 years. Later in the day, he plans to take a dip in his pool to cool off from the summer heat. He's been able to use the money that he's made to design a life for himself that fits with who he is. There's more to his life than material things; he sets his own schedule, he has more autonomy than most of us, and he doesn't have to work if he doesn't want to.

Adam is also very happy. He's one of the happiest people you'll come across. Nothing bad seems to get to him. He never (almost never) talks negatively about others. He enjoys life. He has a positive outlook. He wants the best for everyone he meets.

On the surface, we might think that Adam is happy because he is "rich." There is an alternative viewpoint I want you to consider, though. What if he became rich because he's a happy person?

happiness leads to money

Myth: Money Buys Happiness

After your basic needs are met, more money doesn't buy happiness. Yet, the perception by many of us is that if we just get a little bit more money we'll be happy. Once we get a little more, we tell ourselves, we can finally relax because we'll have enough at last.

The trouble is that as soon as we get to the level we were aiming for, we set our sights on a new prize - we always want what we don't have.

money does not buy happiness

It's Easy to Believe

It's no secret that we believe money provides happiness. You probably know people who have more than you (whatever that means) and seem to be happier than you. The fact that these people exist means that our brains go to work trying to find a pattern. If two things are related, like happiness and money, then surely one must cause the other. If you see the world through a scarcity mindset, then it's easy to make the jump to money causing happiness.

there are happy people with money


Since we know there are happy people with money and our brains come up with a pattern, we easily forget there are happy people who have less money than we do. It's also no secret that there are many people with money who aren't happy.

there are unhappy people with money and happy people without money

Directional Arrow is Wrong

Another mistake we make is within the overlapping section itself. We know there are people with money who are unhappy, and we know there are happy people who have no money. That means the overlapping section could simply be random and unrelated.

Alternatively, we could flip the direction of the correlation arrow. What if happiness makes it easier to find money?

money does not buy happiness

Happiness Buying Money

Happy people tend to live longer and have healthier lives (of course, we need to be careful about this correlation, as well - it's possible people who are healthy and are likely to live longer have more reason to be happy). Happy people are more confident. Confident people tend to come across more and better opportunities, go after and get offered more promotions, and are likely to try more things, some of which may lead to more success.

happiness leads to confidence which leads to opportunities

Benefits of Optimism

Happiness and confidence go hand in hand. People who have positive outcomes seek out and find more positive outcomes. They find themselves in a positive feedback loop that speeds up their upside.

Some have said that luck comes to those who work hard. I like to think that luck can find anyone. You just have to make it easier for luck to find you. You find luck by taking chances.

looking for opportunities helps you find opportunities

Negativity Bias Gets in the Way

One thing that gets in the way of optimism is our brain's negativity bias. We are hardwired for the negative. Our ancestors as little as 100-200 years ago survived by making sure they knew what their risks were. If they obtained a reward, that was great, but it didn't necessarily help them survive. On the other hand, if they ignored a risk, it could be the end of them. Our ancestors passed down this tendency to automatically accentuate the negative.

We live in a different world now. Most of us aren't worried about not surviving. Nonetheless, the negativity bias still exists. Let's call this negativity bias, pessimism. Some people learn to let go of the negativity bias and become more optimistic (genes help, of course, but I believe it is a learned skill).

optimists find more opportunity than pessimists

Gratitude is the Antidote

We all experience many good events and not-so-good events every day. Because of our negativity bias, we accentuate the negative and downplay - and sometimes forget altogether - the positive moments.

We do have positive moments, we just need to learn to appreciate them. Instead of dismissing them, we need to be present with them in the moment. By fully experiencing the positive moments you learn to rewire your brain to look for more positive moments. Life is pretty good if you take the time to realize it.

gratitude leads to optimism

Attitude of Gratitude Ideas

Here are some ideas that might help you live with your positive moments more easily, and reframe less-than-positive moments.

1) If you find yourself complaining about all the stuff you have to do, try reframing it as stuff you get to do. For example, instead of saying, "I have to bring the kids to school this morning, then I have to give a presentation at work," try, "I get to bring the kids to school this morning, then I get to give a presentation at work."

2) When something happens that wasn't ideal, try focusing on the solution, instead of dwelling on the problem. For example, if you realize your car is low on gas on your way to work, change, "Who's the idiot that didn't fill up the tank?" into, "I wonder where the best gas station is that's on my way to work."

3) If something happens that you might consider a failure, try reframing that as a lesson. For example, instead of saying, "I really screwed up that presentation today," try, "Today I learned that people are more receptive to stories than to reading the bullet points on the PowerPoint presentation."

4) Finally, and this one is more challenging for most of us, try to get over your fear of embarrassment. When you start to realize that people do not care as much as you think they do, it frees you up to try more things. The more things you try, the more lessons you'll learn when they don't work out the way you originally hoped. Additionally, the more things you try the more likely it is that you'll find something that works better than you thought. Not being bound by embarrassment makes it easier for luck to find you.

Being grateful and learning to accentuate the positive will lead to more optimism. Optimism leads to happiness. Happiness leads to opportunities. Opportunities lead to more financial success. Therefore, happiness can buy money.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

organize your financial mess

Read More:


Alpha of Listening: A.N.T.S.

James Clear: Atomic Habits

Jordan Peterson: 12 Rules for Life

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.


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© 2020 Money Health Solutions, LLC



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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