We’ve all heard the age-old adage that “money can’t buy happiness”. Most would probably agree with this. I remember years ago hearing a stand-up comedian challenge this expression. He said: “I know people say money can’t buy happiness, but is this accurate? Because I’m pretty sure it can buy a wave runner. Have you ever seen a sad person on a wave runner?!”
He’s got a point!
I think the link between money and happiness is the same as the link between relationships and happiness, or circumstances and happiness, or health/fitness and happiness, or (fill in the blanks)...it comes down to how we deal with the “bad” and whether or not we choose to appreciate the “good”. In other words, how we manage our expectations and choose to process the outcomes will play a large part in determining our daily level of happiness, which ultimately leads to our overall level of happiness. Allow me to explain.
Everyone has expectations. What is interesting is how we react with reality when it doesn’t meet our expectation. Remember having snow days as a kid? Growing up in the cold Midwest, even though I was homeschooled, my mom would still give us a snow day if the neighbor kids had one. I can remember this incredible feeling of learning that it was a snow day. This meant that I could play outside all day and not have to worry about school. It was more than that though. After all, I didn’t have school on weekends. No, this was different – this was a weekday. I was SUPPOSED to be in school. The reality did not equal my expectation and I was ecstatic about it.
Sometimes reality doesn’t meet our expectations in a negative way. Have you ever noticed how, when someone dies after battling a long illness, it isn’t treated the same as when someone passes away unexpectedly? When someone dies suddenly, the unexpected element to it is often mentioned in the obituary or eulogy. Why is that? It seems the answer is because we are now mourning a loss on top of having to come to grips with a terrible change in our expectations. When reality does not meet our expectations, it truly can have a profound impact on our level of happiness.
When dealing with this type of negative turn in our expectation, my suggestion is to try to be elastic. In my observation, there are three types of people: those made of rubber, glass, and elastic. If one is made of rubber, the bad simply bounces off them without much effect. This is problematic because if one never allows the bad to affect them, they lack the ability to be molded and shaped. If one is made of glass, the bad shatters them on contact – leaving them vulnerable. However, being elastic allows the bad to take hold for a brief period of time. This allows one to see the bad for what it is, observe it, learn from it, and discover how to deal with it. Then, as quickly as it came, they have the ability to essentially throw it back to where it came from and move past it. I believe the people who are truly happy in life are the ones who have figured out how to be elastic.
So if happiness is determined by how we let reality affect our expectations, what place does money have in determining our overall level of happiness? Only as much as you allow it to. Pessimists expect the worst and optimists expect the best. I think we should always hope for the best while preparing for the worst. If the worst does indeed occur we are prepared and know how to handle it. But, if the best happens we have reason to celebrate.
The beautiful thing is, you have a choice in how much you allow the size of your pocketbook determine your level of happiness. Studies have shown that people in third world countries are often just as happy in life as those in more developed countries. It leads me to conclude that the happiness you experience as it relates to your pocketbook is more about your outlook and less about the dollar amount.
Josh Willink, MBA