One topic that goes around frequently in psychological circles is the relationship between money and happiness. For as long as that relationship has been studied, which is virtually as long as man has been writing things down, there are still few firm conclusions. The reason for that is, while humans have many characteristics in common, how all that knowledge and competing passions come together is still a complexity that is difficult for science and observation to untangle.
Fortunately, we do have better science than we did just a few years ago and there are some general guidelines you can follow to keep your relationship with money in perspective. In general terms, the rich are happier than the poor. While that may seem intuitive a closer look reveals that it’s really the extremes of both poverty and wealth where unhappiness abides. Certainly the wealthy report higher levels of overall happiness, but that level of happiness is not uniform across the span of incomes.
Invest In Experiences
Experiences last; things don’t. Think back to an event 10 or 20 years in the past with family or friends when you had a really great time. Now try to remember what kind of car you drove back them, what kind of phone you had and how you listened to music. It’s far more likely that you’ll be able to recall the details of the experience with far greater clarity than the car you drove or the stuff you owned at the time. In fact, you may find that you have better recall of the things you owned when they were also associated with the experience. You can probably remember the car you drove to your first prom better than the one you drove 10 years ago. Humans are social creatures and you won’t ever get a sense of community from stuff. Experiences will give you something to talk about and remember long after the bills are paid off.
Keep The Clutter To a Minimum
There’s actually a lot of science in this observation. The happiest people among us carry the least with them. There is actually an inverse relationship between your level of happiness and how much junk you drag around with you. While money may buy happiness, possessions have just the opposite effect. The more junk and clutter you drag around the more your overall level of happiness will diminish, regardless of your income. More stuff equals more worry.
Making Big Bucks, No Time To Enjoy It
The two equal and opposite money mistakes are not having enough and having so much that you don’t have any free time to enjoy it. You’ll hear a lot of talk in the popular media about work/life balance; that is complete hooey. The compromise between free time and work is not a balance, it’s a compromise. That compromise has a real hard dollar cost figure associated with it. You can reward yourself with more free time by doing things like moving closer to your office, which cuts down commuting time.
Connect With People
As mentioned above, humans are social creatures and isolating yourself at work, spending most of your day steeped in electronic communications and not having time to socialize will all detract from your general sense of well being. The modern world simply can’t wipe away thousands of years of evolution. Humans developed in the social groups of families, clans and tribes. The electronic isolation of the modern world is barely a tick on the evolutionary scale and we’re simply not mentally wired to succeed in that environment.
The bottom line is that to lead a happier life you should invest in experiences, particularly those involving family and friends. Don’t just give money to charities; give of your time and yourself. To be happy you need that shared sense of purpose that we used to get from our clan. Keep the junk and things in your life to a manageable level; they won’t contribute to your happiness. And maybe consider taking the job that pays a little less and leaves your weekends free.
Life is simply too short to sell your soul to the bottom line.