Can money buy happiness?
March 25, 2014
Happiness is: peace of mind, freedom, security, joy.
I started blogging nearly a decade ago, in what now seems to be the early dawn of personal finance blogging. Many of the early blogs I got to know are gone now, those that remain have grown up and moved out, sold to PF conglomerates of one sort or another. A few are still chugging along steadily, big and small, populating the landscape like old neighbors. I like old neighbors. It suggests a homeyness and the coziness of people who understand boundaries and respect them, not expecting too much and not talking too much. I still read a variety of bloggers: life-money, wealth, debt bloggers; and their stories keep pushing me to do a little better today than I did yesterday.
One of those bloggers, Ramit (of I Will Teach You to Be Rich) who needs absolutely no publicity from me, sent around an email recently about how he was going to take off for a skiing weekend; his business would continue to rake in the cash orders of magnitude more than he spent. That, of course, set off one of my classic “If you give a mouse a cookie” moments:
I’d like to be able to send an email to my good friends suggesting a weekend away, and pay for it. But some of them have kids. They might have the flexibility to go on an all expenses paid trip but it’d be a pain for them to say, fly cross country, with kids and all their associated luggage. So it’d be awesomer to charter a plane. Oh even better? It’d be best to have my own plane that I didn’t have to pilot and … ok, this just got a whole lot more expensive.
That got me thinking: Based on my definition, quantitatively speaking, I would say that I am at least three times happier now than I was nearly ten years ago.
But I can always find a way to spend more money. Always. I don’t live profligately but my imagination has no shortage of ideas of how to do things “better” that just so happen to cost a few hundred thousand dollars. Or more. It’s not like I’m a hard-partier who believes in working hard = playing hard, but let’s be honest, I could certainly see myself positively wallowing in luxury should I manage to find a way to unbelievable wealth.
Wouldn’t it follow that it doesn’t matter how much money I have, I wouldn’t be happy?
It’s 2014 and most of my expectations haven’t come true.
- I didn’t save my parents from themselves. In fact, that was an epic fail as far as what I *thought* was going to happen: happy healthy parents living in the house I’d bought for them, able to travel the world a couple times a year, able to hang out with me and my chosen family.
- I don’t hold a Master’s degree in anything unless you can have a degree in Grit and Perseverance. You really can’t frame that. Over the years, no degree seemed worth the effort of juggling work and school simultaneously.
- I don’t have a pack of rescued dogs, in the house I bought before age 30. Nope.
These were just a few things on my 30 by 30 list if that had been a thing half a lifetime ago. I’d just started out in my first post-college job, making below the median salary for the field, fresh-minted in the professional world, if not the financial world. My parents were in dire financial straits, I was going to save them, and all was going to be well in the world.
If we were grading my life, using that list, I’d be transported back to those horrible days in high school when a B felt like the end of all things, good or ill. So why would I contend that money = happiness?
Take a step back
Life isn’t about a pre-determined list and checking off the boxes. In today’s society, that’s really easy to forget.
In no small part due to tripling my salary in the past decade, happiness isn’t some holy grail. It’s part of everyday life thanks to the things I didn’t see coming, not the stuff I so carefully planned.
I’m happily married….
Can’t say I saw that coming. Seriously, even though I spent the last many years in a long term relationship, marriage was still something that I supposed would or wouldn’t happen but I wasn’t focused on it as an end goal.
Instead I was all too aware of how tightly wound I was about every. single. penny. PiC would never admit it out loud (though, party trick: watch his eyes dilate a little if the subject ever comes up) but I was NOT easy to live with when he was privy to me in full-caretaking mode. I was worried ALL the time. I was worried day, night and twilight about whether I was making enough to make rent, to cover the cost of fixing Mom up again after her latest run-away and fall, how I was going to pay for nursing care, how I was going to pay for her and Dad’s continued costs of living. And was I working hard enough to make the case for a serious raise, was I performing at star levels, 24 hours a day? And my health was terrible. Stress, as it turns out, exacerbates the health problems so I was, as far as things go, a pretty awful partner to live with for a few years. Making a lot more money – surprise! – made huge difference.
We now enjoy some luxuries, we’re able to have both some things we want and all our needs are met.
Money didn’t save my mom….
but it gave my parents a place to live and stability that they wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t paying.
My health still sucks….
but I have an actual support network now. In the last few years, PiC and I have learned how to cope with it together. The first 15 years of living with fibro was incredibly lonely and isolating. With his support and help, I can afford to pay for alternative treatments to alleviate the pain. With friends who understand, I have people to talk to about something that’s both horrible and never-ending. Friends who have never been seriously sidelined have no understanding of what it’s like to live like this, and I’d never wish it on them obviously, but it’s still been incredibly isolating.
Freedom & Security
These go hand in hand. I haven’t reached the magic number or magic solution that would mean I could go without employment for months or years but I do have the beginnings of both. I have the ability to plan for them, not just dream of them.
Money can’t buy talent, “success”, brains. It sure as heck never bought me great health. I suppose it could buy some measure of beauty if I cared enough about that.
But money in the bank is how I sleep nights I’d otherwise spend sitting up working a few more hours of overtime, or trying to figure out how to cover this month’s bills. Money in the emergency fund is how I ward off a few more nightmares about how we’re going to survive. Money in the brokerage, and paying down the mortgage, is how we build our more secure future, brick by brick. Money is how I can help others: frees up time to volunteer, frees up resources for those who need it a little more.
Money may not buy the actual sense of happiness or satisfaction but it goes a LONG way to easing the road. Still, the experience of being broke was as enlightening, perhaps more educating, than having been born to it.
The fruit of being broke
A work ethic.
I probably never would have worked as hard as I did to pay down my family’s debts. I probably never would have learned the satisfaction of making it, on my own terms, making the best of anything that came our way.
Believe it or not, any friends I still have are down to my sparkling personality, not my money. (chortles “sparkling”).
This goes with a work ethic. What I have, I earned. And I can be proud of that. And I’ve learned to be proud of my work itself; forget being self effacing!
Some studies say that as wealth increases, empathy and compassion decrease. I can safely say that remembering where I came from, and knowing that you can always give someone a helping hand, will never be a problem. The challenge will be passing along that awareness to the next generation.
Priceless: having a value beyond any price
A sense of style.
My dog’s love. (No seriously, I’ve tried bribing him with all manner of treats. I’m acceptable for survival purposes but that’s it.)
Depth perception. (Sure, you say “glasses” but I say: that’s how I first fell UP a flight of stairs.)
Common sense. Sure I have some, but a trip to the department store won’t get more.
Appreciation for the good things in life.
:: What’s your take?
:: What are your flights of fancy?
Related posts: Miss Thrifty putting the emergency fund to good use.