What comes first? Happiness or Money?
Estimated Time To Read: 3 minute(s) 8 seconds
Is getting richer all that it’s cracked up to be? asked The Economist a while back. The UK weekly noted that it is clear that there is a positive relationship between income growth and well-being. What is not clear is whether happiness leads to money or vice versa.
Reviewing various studies, The Economist concluded that even when people are well off, they tend to be less happy because they compared themselves to richer people. The lesson from this, observed The Economist, is that rather than concern ourselves with needless comparisons, we need to focus more on our own accomplishments, the financial freedom that this provides us, and the opportunities to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
This got us thinking more deeply about the relationship between happiness and money. Does happiness create success or does success lead to happiness? We turned to the internet and found numerous studies and articles on the subject, most of which reached a similar conclusion.
A good example is on the website Skilled at Life. “Most of us are brought up to believe that if we do certain things like study hard, get good grades, gain admission into a reputable university, graduate, and get a good job, we will be happy. But is that really the case?” asks the author. “There is a plethora of neuroscience and psychology studies that show that happiness leads to higher productivity, higher profits, and higher success rates. In other words, rather than becoming happy after a certain milestone is reached, happiness contributes more to success than the other way around.”
The problem with trying to obtain happiness by being successful is that the goal posts are always moving, the author continues. Once a person obtains a good job, they then start eyeing a promotion to an even better job. Once they purchase the fancy car, they want one that is even better. It is a perpetual game of playing ‘catch up’. It is never enough.
“We need to stop equating future success with happiness,” concludes the author. “Every aspect of our lives improves when we are happy, and that includes our work ethic and productivity. Happy people even earn more money and are more influential. In a sense, happiness is really a type of work mindset or ethic.”
So, how does one become happier? The author believes happiness is a positive state of mind that we can cultivate with daily practice. Just like working out our muscles in the gym each day, we can train our brains to become more positive and, well, happy! He suggests a number of ways to achieve this:
Practice Daily Gratitude: Choose a specific time each day, preferably twice a day, to list three things that you are grateful for. Spend a few minutes reliving each incident and soaking in the positive feelings you felt.
What I Love About Myself: List three things that you love about yourself each day. All too often we are our own worst critics and we are hard on ourselves. There are numerous things about you that you can love. They can be big or small. Your kindness, your sense of humor, the skill you bring to cooking a meal in the kitchen, the fact that you are an avid reader, the love you shower upon your children.
Practicing Kindness: Research shows that when we are kind to others, we experience a dopamine spike and become happier. Giving really is better than receiving. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, buying a colleague a favourite cup of coffee or giving money to charity.
Meditation: Pick a specific time each day to sit with no distractions for a few minutes and focus on your breath.
Exercise: Movement encourages us to produce more dopamine and serotonin, which, in turn, boost our positivity and happiness.
Another take on happiness and money comes from Dr Elizabeth Dunn, associated professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. She concludes: “What you do with your money seems to matter just as much to your happiness as how much you make.” She recommends:
Spend on experiences, not things: Material goods may last longer, but life experiences—like trips, a special dinner or spa treatments—provide more satisfaction in the long run.
Pay it off early: The pleasure of consumption can be dragged down by the pain of having to pay for it. Rather put money down for things as early as you can, even if you won’t actually experience them for a while. What lies in the future is much more emotionally evocative than what lies in the past.
Give thoughtful gifts: Spending money on others, especially a loved one, is one of the happiest things you can do with your money, especially if a gift is a good fit for the recipient’s personality.
Use a debit, not credit card: Being in debt is negatively associated with happiness, and is linked to health problems such as depression and anxiety.
So, to sum up:
To be the most productive and to be the best we can be, we need to focus on our happiness while we pursue our goals. Happiness is a precursor and part of success and it has a profound effect. Happiness comes first.