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The Wooden Nickel:  The Equation

The Wooden Nickel: The Equation

December 11, 2018

Money is not happiness.

You don’t believe me?  Let me ask you this: who is the happiest person you know?  Is that also the richest person you know?  Maybe, but probably not.

Who is the happiest person you’ve ever heard of?  For me, it’s probably Mother Theresa; not a rich person, but she seemed pretty happy doing what she was doing.

Now, mind you, I’m not arguing that Money = Sadness or More Money = Less Happiness.  I do think that No Money = Sadness.  All I’m trying to say is that, from what I’ve seen with hundreds of people over the years is that happiness is not a function of money. 

Okay, you didn’t start reading this to do math. 

I know happy people and I know rich people.  And my hope for everyone is that you become happier and richer.  It’s good for people to be intrinsically happy; happy people are healthier, better parents, friends, co-workers, and they generally make the world better for all of us.  Happy people usually don’t commit crimes, say mean things, or make miserable dinner guests. 

It’s also good for people to have more money, especially in the US.  Wealthier people can purchase things like health care, good food, better housing, education and TVs.  They also give to charities and cultural institutions, and they help everyone by doing so.

But the two do not equal each other.

Money sometimes makes people do bad things like lie, cheat, steal, pollute, and exploit others.

Just the pursuit of happiness isn’t always great, either.  Those pursuing their own happiness may make selfish choices about family relationships, corporate decisions, and misuse of the environment.  Our Declaration of Independence stated that everybody should be able to pursue happiness, but implicit in that statement was that my “pursuit of happiness” would not be to the detriment of other citizens’ pursuit of their own happiness.  We often forget that.

So what equation can we concoct about money?

My theory is that Money = Choices.

If we have more money, we have more choices.  How we choose to use our money will make us happy, or sad, or something in between. The more money we have, the greater ability we have to choose.  If I have more money, I can choose a nicer car, a better college, more charitable donations, or a cooler vacation.  Will these things make me happier?  Well, when I choose those things I certainly hope so, but there’s no guarantee.  Sometimes we choose things we think will make us happy, but they don’t make us happy.

My mission for my clients, is to help them make choices about how to use money.  My clients earn the money: I have nothing to do with that.  My clients also set goals to decide what they’d like to do with money.  They set those goals.  The value I create for them is to clarify and refine those choices, and then show how to use the money in a way that might bring the joy and happiness they imagined they’d get when they earned and saved it.

When you go to work, you are generally doing it because you are thinking about the things that money can do for you:  repair a car, send a kid to college, pay for a vacation, buy health insurance, pay off a mortgage, enhance a charitable organization, live with dignity after retirement.  You imagine doing these things will make you happy and give you a fulfilling life. 

Money itself should not be a goal.  Spending money is the thing.  Money is useless unless you spend it! 

Our relationship with money is a difficult one.  We know we need it, and we pursue it, and we think it will make us happier if we have more of it.  Money = Happiness can seem like an obvious equation, but it usually doesn’t work out in practice.  In 1 Timothy, the bible even admonishes, “…the love of money is the root of all evil”. 

So instead of worshiping money, think of it as a tool to get things – to do great things for you, your family and your community. My advice is to think about what you’d choose to do with the money before pursuing it, and to make sure you’re not pursuing it to the detriment of yourself and those around you. Setting goals and working toward them can help ensure that the choices you make with your money lead you toward happiness.

Now get back to work.