Wealth and Happiness

Happiness is a personal journey but when you watch television you would think the good life is a new car, skinny body, or winning the lottery. If you were to look at surveys, most Americans say more money would make them happier. But what if you were to look inside at what really gives you joy?

You may ask yourself… what really makes me feel good inside? Is it what the American Dream promises? Individual wealth? Does money buy happiness? Some of you would most likely say yes. Some would assume there is a connection between more wealth and feeling happy, an assumption that many scholars have called the “cycle of work and spend”-working more to buy more. According to one Gallup Poll, four in five people earning more than $75,000 a year say they would like to be richer.

But does being richer really bring about permanent changes in your overall level of happiness? Does it really bring you the consistent level of joy we all so desperately attempt to achieve. Does being well off make for well being? Rich people to a certain extent are happier, especially in poor countries such as India where being well off enhances the sense of well being. But if you were to take a look in the “richer” societies, more money doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness or well being. More money often results in the law of diminishing returns.

David Lykken observes in his own studies of happiness, “People who go to work in their overalls and on the bus are just as happy, on the average, as those in suits who drive to work in their own Mercedes”. So whats the end result of all of this? Since the 1950’s we have become twice as rich as a nation and no happier. The divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has more than doubled, and teens increasingly are troubled with depression.

Social Psychologist David Myersthe calls this the American paradox. He says “More than ever, we at the end of the last century were finding ourselves with big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, secured rights and diminished civility. We were excelling at making a living but too often failing at making a life. We celebrated our prosperity but yearned for purpose. We cherished our freedoms but longed for connection. In an age of plenty, we were feeling spiritual hunger.”

So what can we do on an individual level? If being surrounded by the trappings of wealth, or lack thereof, ultimately does not make us feel happy then what will? Those things that make for a genuinely good life such as close relationships, showing gratitude and feeling appreciation for what we already have achieved in life is a good start. If material wealth is not the most important ingredient for a happy life, what is? Research has offered the following three suggestions:

1. Positive Characteristics – People who are optimistic, kind, forgiving, and grateful tend to have an abundance of happy experiences and happy lives.
2. Being in the Flow – Work and leisure activities that engage an individuals skill tend to lead a happier life. The area that lies between stress and the apathy of being bored, is a zone in which people experience being in the flow… an optimal state of mind in which, absorbed in an activity, they lose consciousness of self and time.
3. Close Relationships – We all have a deep need to belong. Those individuals who are supported by intimate friendships or a committed relationship are much likelier to declare themselves “very happy.”

Ultimately, if you want to be happy, then recognize that happiness is a product of the way you think and behave and not your finances. Choosing to focus on what you desire in life while at the same time being grateful and appreciating what you already have is a good start. We are the captains of our ship. We write the book that is our life. Focus to make it happen.