If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, What Does?

For centuries mankind has been searching for happiness. Regardless of culture, social status or beliefs it seems that we are all connected by our desire to be happy. I don’t know if there is any one right answer, so I will share a few ideas and end with a takeaway and personal challenge.

First, let’s identify your current happiness using the Cantril Ladder: Imagine a ladder with 0 at the bottom rung and 10 at the top rung. 0 is the worst possible life and 10 is the best possible life. Where do you feel you are at right now?

Great. We have a starting point. Now let’s identify some ways that may help us increase our happiness and some behaviors we may want to avoid.

What Doesn’t Bring Happiness

Money, power and prestige don’t bring happiness. Yes, they can provide certain opportunities that people may value, but they don’t bring happiness by themselves. The evidence is all around us. Think of those that have money, power and prestige. We often find them in competition with each other for who is better; we find them putting down others; they are entitled; we find them spending their riches on luxuries and pleasures that may provide a temporary dopamine rush, but leaves them feeling more empty than before…encouraging even more spending for the next “hit”.

Anger, hatred, selfishness, backbiting, egotism – those are not fruits of someone who is happy. But those are the qualities we see among many of the rich, famous and powerful.

Potential Drivers of Happiness

1. Altruism/Selflessness. As humans, our natural instinct is to be selfish; us before them. Yet those that are able to rise above that instinct and sacrifice their own time/pleasure/possessions for others find a huge return on investment. A return that is better than money.

2. Pursuit of Happiness. Indeed, the freedom to do as we wish, to pursue our own ambitions, including our definition of happiness, can bring significant contentment to our lives. For those of us lucky enough to live in a free land, we ought to be very thankful.

3. Gratitude. People that demonstrate gratitude, especially for the little things, exude happiness. Gratitude helps us be less selfish, think highly of others and keep our ego in check. Maybe we could say it’s the antithesis of unhappiness.

4. Safety/Security. Studies have demonstrated that countries that score the highest on their happiness scale are those with significant social safety nets. I don’t believe the happiness comes in the social/political aspect, rather in our desire to feel safe and secure.

5. Faith/Belief. Many people, myself included, find tremendous peace and hope through their faith. And the peace and security obtained through those feelings is a source of happiness for many.

6. Sociality. Relationships are big. But we are all different – so what works for one may not work for another. The key is to find out what works for us (large vs. small groups, extrovert vs. introvert, feeler vs. thinker etc…) and surround ourselves with it.

7. Progress/Achievement. No doubt this is a big one. Tremendous happiness can be found in accomplishing something difficult. And that happiness tends to be lasting and encourages us to achieve something else. Personal progression can be a great source of contentment.

Takeaway & Challenge

The list above is not inclusive. I am sure you have additional ideas, and I encourage you to share them in the comments below. We are all different and there is no right answer or Holy Grail.

My challenge to you is to schedule some quiet time. Put down the smartphone. Reflect on your life. Consider what you value and what provides you with lasting joy. Identify those things and create a plan to do more of those things daily in your life.

Can’t think of anything? Try one of the above suggestions – it’s worked for other people, maybe it will work for you.