The greatest myth is the idea that money will make us happy. And the more money we have, the happier we’ll be. People feel so certain about this that they act as if I am crazy to challenge this seemingly sacred truth. Reality is that happiness is a choice, and the amount of money you have ultimately has little influence on this choice.
To illustrate why money can’t buy happiness, I often use the example of an extremely wealthy woman I interviewed a few years ago. I spoke with Amanda (not her real name) about her experience with money and wealth. Amanda was a millionaire many times over. She disclosed that she had inherited much of it when she was thirteen years old, following the death of her mother. Millions was set aside in a trust and invested until she was twenty-one. She now had so much money it embarrassed her.
I commented on how her money must enhance the amount of free time she had.
“Enhanced? I’m afraid it has only diminished it,” she said.
“How could that be?” I asked. “You don’t need to spend time earning money.”
“No, but I have to manage my portfolio. I have acquired properties that need attention. I have a staff to manage. The more money a person has,” she said, “the more complex his or her life becomes. Having money doesn’t necessarily mean that you have more time.”
“But certainly, you are happier because you don’t have to worry about money,” I said.
“Consider this,” she said. “When someone wants to be my friend I have to wonder if they are being nice to me because they truly like me or because they are interested in my money. I have to distrust people’s intentions until they are perfectly clear.” She added, “This is not the most fertile ground for sincere and lasting relationships. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Amanda looked out the window of my office to the trees in front. “You know, when you have this much money, you don’t even get to have a bad day,” she said. “When I am feeling lonely or low and I call up a friend, they immediately say, “Ah, how can you have problems—you have so much money.” They won’t even allow me to go into it. They believe that all their problems are related to money. And since I have a lot of money, I must not have problems. I simply am not permitted to have them!”
Amanda was the richest person I had ever talked to. Though some might think she was just spoiled and ungrateful, I could see she was one of the most miserable people I had ever met.
I realize that most people reading this blog have much less money than Amanda does, and that she represents an extreme example. But I tell her story because her experience flies so clearly in the face of the myth that money buys happiness.
Take a look at the lives of many of the world’s rich and famous people and you often see a repeating pattern of broken marriages, drug or alcohol problems, and deep discontent. We all know people who have more money than we do: money for travel, more fashionable clothes, or bigger cars. But are they really happier than we are? We are so conditioned to think that money is the solution that we idolize and emulate people who have lots of it. We continue to lust after what they have.
Freedom, time, peace, happiness, and security—these are qualities dear to our souls. We all yearn for them, but their existence is not dependent upon money. These qualities are not derived from the outside world.
Are you happier than you were three years ago? Aren’t you making more money now? Surely you’ve increased your earning potential since college. Do you remember saying back then, “If I had this much money, I’d have it made?” You’ve probably made that much by now. Has it really increased your freedom, time, peace, happiness, or security?
Step back for a moment. What does bring you happiness? Is it playing with your kids? Taking a stroll in the woods? Listening to beautiful music? Do you do these things often enough? If not, it’s not a lack of money that keeps you from doing them, but a misguided priority system.
Our culture has at its core the idea that more is better. Many of us design our lives around this belief. And yet the underlying qualities that truly affect happiness are not advanced one bit by having more material things. More peace of mind is gained by allowing ourselves to be satisfied with what we already have. More joy is not bought; it is found in our hearts.