Happiness and money
Do we equate financial abundance with emotional happiness? I know that I have. I’m sure that we’re all aware of stories in the media of the rich and famous who have 'made it'. They have the cars, the private jets and are surrounded by beautiful people - they are living the dream - yet they feel empty inside, perhaps they feel that they don’t deserve their success or that they are a fraud who will soon to be found out. When this happens and they discover that wealth itself doesn’t bring them happiness, there is nothing left to sustain them (no future hope that one day money and success will make everything alright) and they sink into depression and often turn to alcohol and drugs or sex to blot out the pain.
If money does not bring us happiness, why do we desire it? Taking an evolutionary approach – in the past, as hunter gatherers, hoarding things (food, firewood) could mean the difference between life and death. Those that tended to hoard things survived. So genetically we are predisposed to hoarding. Our present behaviour is still influenced by our past and we are still hunter gatherers - seeking to accumulate wealth. Many of us, however, no longer accumulate to live, but live to accumulate and in this material world we often value wealth over meaning and happiness and see it as a measure of how worthy a person is.
According to Tal Ben-Shahar*, research supports the notion that money in itself does not increase our levels of happiness. Once our basic physical needs (for food, shelter and warmth) are taken care of, additional money does not tend to be linked to an increase in happiness. In fact, we have grown richer over the last 50 years yet people have become less happy, with the incidence of anxiety and depression rising. Are we as a planet becoming emotionally bankrupt? Depleted in the currency that really counts with financial considerations taking precedence over emotional well-being.
Money has no intrinsic value. Its worth comes from what we can do with it. For example, it may free us up to live a life that is more meaningful, or it may give us faster access to health services, we can use it to provide water and medicine to poorer countries. We need money to live, but I think that what we need to bring things into balance, placing more emphasis on valuing our emotional life.
What’s the next step?
If you would like to explore having more happiness in your life, then talking to a chartered psychologist who is experienced in working with happiness is an effective next step. Multiple research studies support the idea that focusing on what is good in our lives can increase our levels of happiness and well-being. Clearly, this is a different approach from talking about our problems where the focus on what’s wrong in our lives. So why not consider taking the next step or keep a look out for a local course!
*Acknowledgements: This article has been influenced by Tal Ben-Shahar’s book “Happier”, Mcgraw-hill professional, 2008.
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