One of the most startling things I’ve learned in the last four months was the accurate role of money in determining happiness. Two of the major misconceptions about money is having more money is going to make us happier1 and the time spent gaining increasing income, or salary, is a good investment. The data about both of these seems to point in the opposite direction. Obviously these issues are deeply connected, and I want to look at these two in some greater detail. I believe that if we don’t make choices holding these two fallacies accountable we face an insurmountable problem finding happiness.
The modern ideal American salary according to every serious study, report, and article is $50,000. Now what the value of that amount is a long conversation I will keep for another day. I will assume this amount is the current value enough to provide for basic needs, entertainment, and some saving. Personally, I see that amount and it seems kinda high. I could get a crazy amount of stuff done with an amount of that magnitude. Child care paid up, food in abundance, utility bills would always be paid, it sounds like a dream life. So surely having four times this amount would make one four times happier. Yet, nothing science studies sees anything like that. Instead, the data says things like, “people who live in moderately wealthy nations are not much less happy than people who live in extremely wealthy nations2.” In other words there is a modern value, $50,000, that allows for reasonable power and control over one’s life to reach fulfillment and take care of business.
Past this amount you can only accumulate stuff and/or hoard of money. Seemingly extra stuff brings a short burst of satisfaction that fades nearly immediately after acquisition. This is where the ideas begin to sync up with some personal experience. This time of year in a retail management setting I would have to put in 70+ hours a week to keep up with the Christmas frenzy. The Christmas bonus was cool, but didn’t really affect me on the level of income changing amounts. I had to spend time away from my family. I was so tired, and the one day I had off, Christmas, I was barely able to function during exhausted. Was it worth the salary and bonus? No. Looking back, maybe that kind of life style led to the end of the relationship. I could have spent those ridiculously long hours growing socially with my family. The tragedy is the never being able to know what the difference would have been because I was working. Now the second question here is, am I now better off because of good earnings during that time? No. That money is gone. It was only enough to provide us with a comfortable living in a duplex, and some fun experiences. Not enough for saving. Of course, the only reason anybody really saves money in banks and money investments is because interest gains and the growing bubble of inflation. Yet, if you let go of the idea of needing more and more, the need to feed those unsustainable markets falls away.
Coming to understand that finding the balance of money value in your economic climate and economizing with the needs of family and friends can extend life3and give one a more fulfilling life. How amazing would the human race be if its fast majority of citizens would realize a long, fulfilled life is a happy life? I say we should start finding out.