How Pursuing Money Affects Happiness

Pursuing money is about as American as apple pie, fireworks, and a white picket fence. Our country became great because we have the ability to build the life we want. But somewhere pursuing money has taken over our pursuit of happiness. Without happiness, what’s the point?

I’m not a leftist; I’m a libertarian. One may do whatever he or she wants to do as long as another’s personal liberties are not infringed upon. I observe people. Happiness doesn’t require money and status. Happy people seem to enjoy what they do, stay in the moment, and do what they want. Money, in itself, not cast a black cloud.

Money does not play for a side. By itself, it’s nothing. We give it meaning. Pursing money does have meaning. It may mean paying bills. It may mean “making it”. It may mean measuring yourself up against one another. What does it mean to me? Money represents a tool, a conduit. Money contorts itself into what one can and cannot have. Ironically, status symbols don’t directly correlate into what one can afford ($30,000 millionaires, anyone?).

Pursuing Money

Money only represents a tool to me and how I pursue money. Some people pursue their money via trading time for a paycheck, hourly employees. Others get a cut of the the deal via a commission upon closing. Others have investments who receive interest, dividends, rent, etc., that they receive passively. Others, shadily, undercut to “have more” — the ponzis and Madoffs of the world, who give capitalism a bad name.

What else do I really want besides a few things? Here’s my Flow. Photo courtesy of Collin Marcum

The last set of characters most egregiously offend the system of pursuing money. If you need money that badly, then you probably have no qualms about pulling whatever set of tricks you have to meet those ends. And for what? Are you really happy? Does having another zero or two attached to your name make you a happier person?

I know people and have heard people using money as a measuring stick. As if that really matters in the game that is life. If pursuing money means that much - you want more and more - you will never find amount that will satisfy you. Apparently making “only” $75,000 meets a critical mass of happiness. Reaching the sum of $75K seems to be statistically significant to how happy one becomes.

Americans have a way of using wealth, status, and employment as a way to measure up against the person living across the street. Instead it should be who the person is. “What do you do?” should not be our “cocktail question”.

Hierarchy of Needs and Self-Actualization

What about Maslow’s theories? Have we grown into a culture and society that want to be congratulate the self-actualized, yet not seek it for ourselves? Do we want to praise the thinkers and geniuses of our time, yet don’t want to act outside of the “acceptance” of our culture?

One of the greatest ironies I see when pursuing money is how people want to make it in the traditional way, yet the people who reap the most successes do anything but follow the leader: they pave, scratch & crawl, and meander their own way.


One of the most inspiring videos I’ve seen comes from a couple of guys who call themselves “The Minimalists”. The story goes that Ryan, a young professional quickly moving up the corporate ladder, “acted like he was supposed to”. He had a corporate job, he had cars, he had the apartment, and he had the material possessions. He had the life that should make one happy. Right? Except the material life did not make him happy.

Ryan and Josh, the other half of The Minimalists, got together and had a “boxing party”. They boxed up everything Ryan owned. Everything. It was like Ryan was moving. For the next three weeks Ryan only took out what he used, and donated the rest. He would donate 80% of his possessions.

Read Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. Digest it and step closer toward enlightenment.

Why minimalism? How many things do you have that you actually want, use, and need? Instead of impulse buys, “sleep on it” for a few days. Think about what value it adds. It’ll save you money, hassle, and space. Take a look around your home. How many things do you have that are just “stuff”? I bet more that you’re willing to admit.


Sharing this photo makes me happier than pursuing money.

Think about what you like to do just for the sake of doing it. What do you like to do that makes time fly by, and nothing else in the world matter? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls that flow. Nothing else in the world matters when you do something you love so much that everything else ceases to exist. You are in the zone.

How often do you participate in such an activity? Sometimes? All of the time? Twice per year? Do you even have an activity, hobby, or project?

Flow and pursuing money don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a job or career that pays your bills and delivers you indelible joy. Consider yourself lucky! We have one shot at life, so don’t waste it! Photography seems to be a career in which people pursue because they love photography. Photography is definitely a hustle, but the professionals love what they do.

Millionaire Next Door

Continuing on with eye-opening books, The Millionaire Next Door blows your mind about how millionaires live and spend their money. Although written and researched the early-1990s, you can find many lessons to carry with you.

A few bits I took away that millionaires (defined by net worth), favor cheaper cars, beer, houses, and are big savers and investors. So, what does that mean? If you see people driving Porsches, drinking Scotch by the barrel, and have more toys than Santa they either belong in an upper-upper class or have no money! Thanks to credit, marketing, and consumerism, we care as much about what everyone else has and what you think you want as what you need.

Unhappy Professionals

One of the greatest ironies comes from “successful”, middle-aged professionals who have everything of the American dream, except they hate life. They worked so hard for years in school, hustling at work, and buying what you’re supposed to buy and like, but end up miserable and depressed.

Studies show that executives are much more prone to depression than the generation populace. Move your way up the ladder of success to earn more, hold more prestige, and maybe take an earlier retirement. You also miss out of a large portion of your life. It’s a trade-off: to have a successful corporate career you must forgo a large portion of your free time to dedicate to your job. Corporate logic often dictates if you don’t want it, someone surely will. You can choose for yourself if it matters enough missing the little things in life.

Many companies have the workaholic culture that if you don’t put in all of the hours, you won’t ever be promoted. It’s amazing to hear when a parent leaves a lucrative job, to spend more time with family, and then find a new job with better hours that earns more money!

Wanting More as a Vicious Cycle

The more you want, the more you want. It’s a never-ending cycle. How often do you actually buy things you need? How often do you have spontaneous purchases, only to regret them? How often do you sleep-on acquiring at item? How often do you buy something because “everyone else has it”?

If you always want something new, something more, something that everyone else has, you won’t be happy. You won’t be content with what you have that you always worry about what you want. And you don’t know why you want it. (Other than buying what everyone else has, just because.)

Buy for utility, for purposeful use, and for productivity. Think it over a few days. Even for a cheap, $20 item. Impulse purchases’ costs add up over time and if nothing else, they clutter your space.


What do you get out of pursuing money? I know people who use the amount of money they make as a measuring stick to compare themselves to others. Why? I haven’t the foggiest. I’m not so insecure or vain to use the amount of money I make as a measuring stick. If you continually compare yourself to others, will you ever be happy? Doubtful.

Unless you are literally the best at what you do, someone is better than you. And more to point, you will make yourself miserable by comparing what you do to another. By all means, learn from others and even copy them. Do what you can do.

With pursuing money out of the question for a moment, what do you do that truly makes you happy? What stops you from doing more of that? I once heard of traveling that its hardest part is deciding to travel. After that, it’s easy. Apply the same logic to what makes you happy. After you decide, it ought to be easy. For what is the point of life if you can’t do what makes you happy.

Me Pursuing Money Happiness

I don’t want to say that I never was all about pursuing money. Although, I’ve only ever viewed money as a tool, not as the actual end. If you’re not happy right now with your life, what makes you think that more money will make you happy? Perhaps you can buy a few toys you’ve always wanted, but for the most part will having more money make you happy? Lottery winners aren’t necessarily happier. They spend money the way they always have.

After you have enough money to support your family, yourself, and your interests, pursuits, and hobbies, what more do you really need?

Is being happy the mean of life? Perhaps. Maybe we all should lead a life of pursuing happiness instead of pursuing money. Even with all of the super-ultra premium amenities the US has, we’re not even a Top 10 happy country. And the US doesn’t really have poor. Egregious laziness, perhaps, rampant poverty, not a chance. Travel and learn some perspective. If you’re an American, you’ve already won the lottery.

Do what makes you happy. For me, that’s running, taking pictures, seeing our beautiful world, and someday finding someone to share all those moments with. What else do I want?

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Original posted here.

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