money and happiness

Terrell on August 29th, 2006 No Comments

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Money doesn’t buy happiness”, and it was probably at a time in your life when you were financially strapped. While it’s good advice, it’s not exactly what you want to hear when you’re down on your luck. But, when heard at the right time and in the right frame of mind, the message makes a lot of sense. For example, a well written piece by Jonathan Clements in the Wall Street Journal helped put things into perspective for me: Money and Happiness: Here’s Why You Won’t Laugh All the Way to the Bank.

I’ve never really had an internal drive to be a millionaire or live like Donald Trump, but I have always wanted to live comfortably with enough cash to use for fun things like vacations and cute shoes. I feel like I’ve accomplished this goal, but at times I also feel it’s not enough and that maybe I should be making more money, driving a nicer car and living in a bigger apartment overlooking the water.

According to Clements, “people with higher incomes tend to spend more time working, commuting and engaging in obligatory nonwork activities, such as maintaining their homes.” What I take away from this statement is that in order to make more money, you have to sacrifice more of your free time to work. Then, when you do make more money, it’s likely you’ll accumulate more possessions and material goods which will mean you have to spend more time maintaining them. In the end, any free time you have goes toward maintaining the possessions you’ve worked so hard to acquire. This does not sound like fun to me and is a good reminder of why it’s ok for me to feel comfortable with my income.

Clements lists four things he believes lead to greater happiness (in bold):

Short commutes. I would rather pay more to live in-city and be closer to my job than spend less on rent and have a longer commute. Plus, the shorter commute helps keeps my gas bill down and my emotions (road rage) under control.

Having more time; working less. I work a 37.5 hour work week. I notice that most of my neighbors have already left for work by the time I get to my car in the mornings, and I’m usually the first one back to the carport in the evenings. I love this.

Spending your money thoughtfully. I am not am impulse shopper. Because I have less money to spend, I really do have to think about how I’m spending it. I can’t afford to be frivolous, so when I do buy something extravagant, I usually appreciate for a long time afterward.

Use your leisure time wisely. This is a hard one for me. When I do have time to do whatever I choose, I struggle between being productive and truly relaxing. I tend to forget that relaxation can help me be more productive in the long run. I think a lot of people also equate leisure time with vacations, expensive vacations. I’ve heard myself complaining to people that I haven’t had a “real” vacation in a long time. The reality is that I can make any amount of free time a vacation if I do it the right way. You can’t measure the quality of your leisure time by how much money you spent, only by how much real pleasure you got out of it.

It seems as if the keys to happiness have a lot more to do with what you do with your money than how much you earn. And this is good news because it’s never too late to become financially responsible. That’s what I call a happy ending.


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