The Role of Money and Success in Happiness

I recently ran across an interview with Tal Ben-Shehar, author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. During the interview, Ben-Shahar was asked about the fact that his research suggests that money and success matter little in terms of happiness. His response?

This is a concept that my students and our society in general struggle with. Happiness largely depends on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. It depends on what we choose to focus on (the full or empty part of the glass) and on our interpretation of external events. For example, do we see failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

One of the most common barrier to happiness is the false expectation that one thing — a promotion at work, a prize, a revelation — will bring us eternal bliss. As soon as your achieve your goal, the “what’s next” syndrome kicks in, leaving you as unfulfilled as before.

In fact, I would go a bit further (based on no evidence beyond personal experience) and argue that the “one thing” that you’ve been hoping for (the promotion or prize) can sometimes make you less happy in the long run, as such things are often accompanied by increased responsibility, a heavier workload, higher expectations, etc. Be careful what you wish for!

7 Responses to “The Role of Money and Success in Happiness”

  1. Anonymous

    Well, I completely disagree about money not leading to happiness.

    I believe the reason why people leave the arts, music, studying history/philosophy, writing, etc, after a certain age, for let’s say accounting and nursing has more to do with money and financial security than anything else.

    So now, give each of these young turks an annuity, which pays ’em an annual salary of an accountant for life, w/o actually having to work as one, then I think you’d see a lot of happy and content people doing what they enjoy.

    All and all, if you’ve got your ducks in order (and both oars in the boat), money should enable you to experience more “happiness”.

  2. Anonymous

    I think state of mind is half the answer.

    Reminds me of some survey on marital happiness I read about a while ago; apparently, if a couple is having regular sex, then sex only counts 10% to the overall happiness of a marriage but if the couple are not having sex at all, then it becomes a pivotal issue.

    I think it’s the same with money & happiness. If you have enough, then it becomes relatively unimportant in determining your overall level of happiness but if you’re struggling financially, it’ll feature as a central reason for your unhappiness.

    While we should certainly aim to dispel the illusion that more money will buy happiness, it’s probably a little irresponsible to suggest that there’s no correlation at all. Enough money does bring peace of mind which is an important ingredient in happiness.

  3. Anonymous

    If circumstances are unimportant then why does anyone pay their bills? We can all run around laughing and signing.

    So now goals are bad? OK, go tell your kid that having the goal of being a college grad, or good parent to their kid or saving for retirement is stupid. Just give yourself a hug each day and everything will be perfect.

    If your bank account does not help determine your happiness feel free to send it to me.

    This is silly politically correct garbage.


  4. Anonymous

    I love telling this anecdote:

    One day my ex and I were having an argument, and he asked me: “You owe everyone in the universe money, and your whole world is going to Hell in a handbasket. Yet people don’t see you cry very often, and you always seem to be so happy. How can you do this?” My answer, which left my mouth without me thinking about it, was a simple question: “And crying would change what about my situation?”

    Upon reflection, and many years later, I’m still proud of that answer. My happiness, by and large, has not been dependent on my outward circumstances. And I think that this fact has enabled me to withstand some very rough circumstances.

    What I would love to know is: How do you and your readers insulate yourself from self-pity and powerlessness?

  5. Anonymous

    Circumstances are the most unstable thing in this world. If we condition our happiness on the things that happen (rich/poor, success/failure), that’s going to be quite the roller coaster ride!

  6. Anonymous

    Martha Washington said “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances.”

  7. Anonymous

    Don’t worry. Be Happy.

    4 Words that are really pretty key. The more someone is concerned about their own desires, the more common they make concern for others the less they will worry about themselves, the more they will be happy.

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