“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” –Benjamin Franklin
What type of Happy are we talking about here? The kind that’s like a 5 year old who’s been given their dream Christmas gift, plays with it for 5 minutes, and then instead uses the box as a fort? OR The type of happy where we’ve dreamed of Hiking the Appalachian Trail for the last 15 years, saved up 6 months worth of salary, trained for a year, battled months of storms while hiking, and have finally reached the finish line? Oh, and obviously there are plenty of types of happiness in-between these extremes.
When using “HAPPY” as a blanket word, we often forget that we are encompassing a large spectrum. For a more in-depth look, the website has a whole section devoted to Happiness! However, let’s briefly cover the types of Happiness, and how money interacts with these types of happiness. The first Type is the Ephemeral Pleasures (like eating lobster in a hot tub with our diamond-encrusted necklace on) and the second type is the deep engagement we feel during things like snowboarding, music, art, or other activities that enable us to experience Flow. Things get a little complicated though, when we’re attempting to use money to buy the more meaningful types of Happiness that come from Perspective (Type 3 Happiness) or having a life full of Meaning and Purpose (Type 4 Happiness) through Service, Discovery, Love, and Expression.
“It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” —George Lorimer
A typical story of what happens when we try to buy money with happiness is The Midas Touch. This story is about a man who gets to wish for anything he desires and wishes that everything he touches turns to gold. The man enjoyed watching things like flowers and apples turn to gold, and then hugs his daughter. He realizes the curse of the wish, as things he values more than gold are now reduced to gold. He desperately pleads to undo this wish as he’d rather have his daughter back than infinite wealth.
How Happy Can Money Make Us?
“Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.” — David Lee Roth
Various studies cite specific numbers ($105,000 and $500,000) at which quality of life caps as a result of income. The number depends on environment, family size, and other such factors, but the theme is the same: there is a limit to life quality that wealth can bring us.
Examining Dan Bilzerian, a man who is the modern day equivalent of the question, ‘Can Money Buy Us Happiness?’ offers an illuminating case study.
We’ll quickly break down a few things about who Dan Bilzerian is:
- A former poker player who made over $50,000,000 in one year
- He’s famous for documenting (on Instagram) his lifestyle of oppulence, sex, drugs, and parties
- He’s the posterboy for the American dream come true: “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”
- He claims to have partied so hard that he’s already had two heart-attacks before the age of 35.
- According to Vice, “His feed is basically lifestyle porn for dudes who measure success in terms of women, weapons, and wealth—men who fantasize about racing fast cars, playing poker professionally, and working as a stuntman, all of which Bilzerian has done.”
When asked “So Money doesn’t buy happiness?” His response was:
“Oh Fuck No. Chasing money and girls is not what makes you happy. I think happiness comes more from having good friendships and doing things with your friends.”
Quotes from Dan Bilzerian:
- “Money and girls is like a black hole, I feel like there is never enough.”
- A man who at the time of this quote had around 44,000,000 Instagram followers “Dude, I’m just so over social media. I think it’s the worst thing to happen to society, honestly, it just takes out, like a lot, of interpersonal connection. Like, I feel like people don’t live in the moment as much.”
- “A lot of these things I recognize, but I still keep fucking doing them. I realize that chasing money and girls is not what makes you happy, but I still do it.”
- What makes him happy: ‘adventure, building things, connecting with people, helping people out, surfing, sex does too, being out in the sun, more simple shit, friends, a lot of stuff that doesn’t require money, working out’
- Talks about being younger and was so sure that a million dollars would make him happy and that it would be enough, and then 5 million, and then 10 million. “I was so sure that the million would be enough.” And then you just realize that it’s not the money that’s gonna make you happy, but I still chase it.”
- When asked the positives of money, he said ‘the freedom, the power, the flexibility, stuff like that, but it definitely comes with a lot of headaches too.’
- The thing about money, the reason it makes you unhappy is because it raises the bar, ‘I’m dating the hottest chicks, I’m wearing the nicest watches, I’m eating at the best restaurants.’ He talks about the challenges of finding joy in less flashy things, now that his bar is so high.
The Devil’s Advocate
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.” – Clare Boothe Luce
While Bilzerian may not be a patron saint of money wisdom, he is an influential figure with an ironic message: having everything isn’t everything! He talks about a quote that is meaningful to him, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” —Henry David Thoreau
Dan Bilzerian’s happiness might be attributed to the fact he’s leading a life of lessons rather than regrets. Dying on the road to dreams, even if those dreams are built of gold, seems far less painful than dying having not taken action at all. Even confidence around what the Meaning OF Life is does very little without taking steps to pursue it.
Purely from a happiness standpoint, he’s also bought plenty of exciting short-term experiences (Type 1 Happiness) like Ferraris, mansions, and guns. He uses money to dip into meaningful moments of flow like snowboarding or hanging out on the beach with friends Type 2 Happiness. And, along the way, he’s found enough perspective (Type 3 Happiness) to at times realize money can’t buy happiness. He takes moments to jump off the Hedonic Treadmill and pursue connection and meaningful experiences with those he cares about.
Try This: Quick Check-In
- What are a few phrases or emotions that came to mind as you read about the quotes, choices, and lifestyle of Dan Bilzerian?
- Did any of the things he shared about happiness or why he lives the way he does surprise you?
The Pluses and Minuses of the American Dream
“Yet there is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.” — John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren
First, let’s define this dream, the dream that many Americans spend their life chasing. The American Dream “is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.” OR the opportunity to have a better life than we were born into. The challenge with this dream is knowing when or if we are achieving it. Does working at a job five years before a promotion equal the American Dream? Once we’ve bought a house and have a good car, are we permitted to be ‘happy?’
The Bible tells of a story where the people attempted to build a tower that would reach to Heaven. In this story, there was an end goal, but one can’t help but wonder, how would they know when they’re there? Is there a “Welcome” sign at some point? It feels as if many of us are experiencing the same thing with the American Dream. “Are we there yet?” And even if we do have a finish line in sight, how realistic is it that we reach it?
According to Scientific American “The notion of the American Dream—that, unlike old Europe, we are a land of opportunity—is part of our essence. Yet the numbers say otherwise. The life prospects of a young American depend more on the income and education of his or her parents than in almost any other advanced country.”
If this dream is held as rare, but attainable, it provides us hope. If held as the standard for how one’s life should be measured, it probably feels more like a weight tied around our necks. With the opportunity to be ‘anything we want to be,’ there is a danger in assuming that we should all be astronauts or doctors. For some, being the first generation to go to college, the first family member to own a home, or merely living a life void of financial stress is a huge accomplishment.
This American Dream is neither good nor bad, our view determines its utility. So let’s examine a couple of the highs and lows of this dream.
- It gives an individual an endless goal/pursuit to devote their lives to.
- This Dream unites America around a shared ideal.
- Freedom and Equality: The American Dream “promises freedom and equality. It offers the freedom to make both the large and small decisions that affect one’s life, the freedom to aspire to bigger and better things and the possibility of achieving them, the freedom to accumulate wealth, the opportunity to lead a dignified life, and the freedom to live in accordance with one’s values—even if those values are not widely held or accepted.”
- What is the top rung? How will we know when we’re there? It’s too vague a dream to ever become a reality for most.
- Life Enjoyment: “Yet there is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.” —, John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren
- The perceived reality of this dream: “The U.S. is one of only four high income economies amongst 50 economies with the lowest rates of relative upward mobility.”
Even if we do catch this dream, the pursuit of happiness is still a hindrance to having it. Wait, why? It defines happiness as something outside of our lives that we don’t already have. The pursuit of happiness encourages us to find meaning in the things or circumstances that make us feel “good.”
While the American Dream may contain a few great virtues, it doesn’t carry a secret to happiness. The firefighter or veterinarian that we dreamed of becoming when we grow up might hold more potential for fulfillment and joy than we think. Meaning, as it turns out, is what brings people the greatest amount of life fulfillment.
Quick Activity: Building Your Dream
Join us in this 4 minute activity as we figure out how to pursue your version of the “Dream.”
- What are some of the key components of your “Dream” life?
- What are a few areas that you feel most excited to step into more opportunity than you were born into (can be educationally, socially, emotionally, health, happiness, career, etc.)?
- What are a few small, yet attainable, dreams that you have for your children or the next generation?
Shiny Things Will At Least Buy Me Short Term Happiness, Right?
“Make money your god, and it will plague you like the devil.” —Henry Fielding
There are two main reasons why even the shiniest of THINGS only makes us happy for a very short period of time: the Hedonic Treadmill and Lifestyle Inflation.
Hedonic Treadmill/Adaptation: Investopedia describes this theory as, “ the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill model, as a person makes more money, their expectations and desires rise in tandem. So the rise in income results in no permanent gain in happiness.”
This chart shows how despite major positive or negative experiences, we all have the tendency to return to a set level of happiness.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau a famous philosopher that largely influenced the Enlightenment, explained hedonic adaptation in 1754 in his Discourse on Inequality as: “Since these conveniences by becoming habitual had almost entirely ceased to be enjoyable…it became much more cruel to be deprived of them than to possess them was sweet, and men were unhappy to lose them without being happy to possess them.” In essence, it’s far more painful to lose a certain level of lifestyle than it is rewarding to rise to a new level of lifestyle.
More explanation of The Hedonic Treadmill
Lifestyle Inflation can simply be defined as “I Deserve This!”
Investopedia defines Lifestyle Inflation as, “increasing one’s spending when income goes up. Lifestyle inflation tends to continue each time someone gets a raise, making it perpetually difficult to get out of debt, save for retirement or meet other big-picture financial goals. Lifestyle inflation is what causes people to get stuck in the rat race of working just to pay the bills.”
For many getting trapped on the Hedonic Treadmill, “Lifestyle Inflation” would be what we would call the speed dial. However, despite the prevalence of the Hedonic Treadmill, getting off of it can be accomplished with a few small steps.
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it will certainly get you a better class of memories.” –Ronald Reagan
How Do I Turn This Thing Off?
According to Developing Good Habits, “Achieving long-term happiness is easier said than done, but still doable. The key is to accept that most of the great things in our lives have nothing to do with buying things, wealth, or material possessions. Instead, happiness comes from meaningful work, great social networks, and recognizing the great things that are already in your life.”
Developing Good Habits also offers Seven Habits for Getting Off the Hedonic Treadmill:
Whether practicing Gratitude, Love, or Mindfulness, the keys to live a Meaningful Life remain the same:
- The Four Cornerstones of a Meaningful Life – Service, Love, Discovery, and Expression
- The Bliss Map – The Four Factors Important to Meeting our Workplace Needs – Paid For It, Good At It, In Love With It, World Needs It
- The Four Types of Happiness – Ephemeral Pleasures, Flow, Perspective, and Meaning/Purpose
- Practice the Enablers (the skills, tools, and philosophies that can enable living with more purpose, intention, and joy) – Examples include practicing Gratitude, Mindfulness, Freedom, Perspective, Forgiveness, Play, and More
“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” – Vickor Frankl
So What Can Money Do For Happiness?
“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” —Edmund Burke
Saying that ‘money produces happiness up to a certain point’ is true, but also incomplete. In fact, having more money enables more happiness in almost every way. What do we mean “enables”?
Enablers allow us to live with more purpose, intention, and joy. Money is an enabler, and its presence provides opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have. What are some common enablers that money provides?
- Freedom – Money enables us the freedom of time, freedom of choice, freedom to pursue our curiosities, freedom from financial stress, and the freedom to Discover more about who we are.
- Travel – Money enables more travel opportunities, the opportunity to experience other cultures, to explore other ways of life, and to enjoy life’s pleasures.
- Perspective – Money enables us the opportunity to travel, attend retreats, or other experiences that can impact our point of view through things like gratitude.
- Wisdom – Money enables self-education, going back to school, classes, or experiences that help us to make better decisions moving forward.
- Self-Care – Money can provide the opportunity to get massages, hire a personal trainer, treat ourselves, or do more of the things that recharge us.
- Opportunity – Money provides the ability to say “yes” to more things in life. Having money means having more options!
The list goes on and on. With care and intention put into the how’s and why’s of money, it can be a resource that we funnel into other means of joy in life.
Quick Question: Using Money as an Enabler
Join us in this 2 minute activity as we explore how to better use money as an Enabler.
- What are some ways that you can use money to enable living with more purpose, intention, and joy?
More Work Satisfaction/Bliss
Money is one of four factors involved in achieving Bliss in relationship to work.
The Four Factors Are referred to as the Bliss Map:
- Paid For It – We typically call this type of work “Jobs.” These jobs meet our basic human needs like Health, Safety, and Some Financial Freedom.
- In Love With It – This type of work involves enjoying the day-to-day tasks and even seeing work as fun. Flow may be frequent, and doing the work often meets human needs like appreciation, inspiration, challenge, and discovery.
- World Needs It – This type of work serves a ‘higher/bigger purpose’ than oneself, and affirms one’s worldview.
- Good At It – This type of work involves elements of Skill, Mastery, and Engagement and Flow. This work involves interpersonal and life skills (Enablers) engaged with familiarity.
The more we are paid, the greater the sense of Bliss we have around work. A sense of happiness around the place that we can spend 40 plus hours of our week, goes a long way towards our overall happiness. Higher pay can also enable a greater sense of value, appreciation, and even feelings of affirmation that we are “good at” what we do.
While money alone does not guarantee Happiness, it can be used as a tool to purchase each of the 4 Types of Happiness.
While each type provides a different quality of happiness, most of us are after a life that includes all 4 Types. Let’s explore how to use our dollars as a tool to have a greater sense of happiness.
- Type 1 Happiness: Ephemeral Pleasures – This type of happiness is short lived and can be purchased through things like ice cream cones, nights out with friends, new clothes, nice dinners, or fun experiences like concerts. This is the most common and easiest means of buying happiness.
- Type 2 Happiness: Flow – This type of happiness is found in doing activities that engage us. We can purchase this type of happiness through experiences like rock climbing, horseback riding, skiing, or activities that enable us to get “lost in the moment.”
- Type 3 Happiness: Perspective – This type of happiness is found in achieving a deeper sense of peace, acceptance, and self-awareness. We can purchase this type of happiness through things that give us a new sense of perspective like peak experiences, relationship workshops, meditation retreats, or personal growth seminars.
Purchasing Meaning and Joy
While the fourth type of happiness is the hardest to tap into through money, the return on investment is the largest. This type of happiness is deeper, longer-lasting, and referred to as joy. While tapping into joy, we are also creating a more Meaningful life that leads to us feeling a deeper sense of fulfillment.
- Service – A common way we use money as a form of service is by giving to causes or values we care about. A few examples are mission trips, giving to those in need, or supporting charities we find meaningful.
- Love – We can tap into this cornerstone through using money to express or enable a deeper sense of love for ourselves or others. Gift giving (one of the 5 Love Languages) is a common form. We can also spend money on things like therapy that enable us a deeper ability to give or receive love. Love can also benefit from more quality time with loved ones or memorable experiences.
- Discovery – We can tap into this cornerstone through purchasing experiences that enable us to better know ourselves. Common examples are found in trying things out like music, textile art, personal growth experiences, travel, etc.
- Expression – We can tap into this cornerstone through using money as an expression of our values, beliefs, or selves. A common way of using money as a form of expression is through creativity, such as art lessons, ballet lessons, or purchasing things that we find beautiful. We all want to express ourselves, and having money allows us the time and capacity to do so. Even the way we dress, our grocery choices, or the way we decorate our homes can be forms of expression.
Quick Quiz: Using Money as an Enabler
Join us in this 8 minute activity as we explore how to better use the money we already have to purchase Meaning.
- What are three ways that you can use money as a means of Service to others or causes we value?
- What are three ways that you can use money as an Expression of your Love for those you care about?
- What are three ways that you can use money to enable yourself to receive more Love from others?
- What are three ways that you can use money to Discover something new about yourself or put yourself in a new situation that creates the opportunity for Discovery?
- What are three ways that you can use money to Express yourself (your values, the way you feel, your creativity, anything else that you’d like to)?