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Weekly Mindfulness Support Blog - Money Makes You Happy?

Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, April 30, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.

I was recently scrolling through a social media feed and came across this article titled, “Birds make you as happy as money, study finds.” I was aghast. I’m trying to be kind, open, and understanding when I respond to posts. After a pause and a few breaths, I came to the conclusion that I probably shouldn’t say anything. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Well, I didn’t listen to that wisdom. Still trying to stay true to being open and understanding, I wrote, “Money makes you happy?”

I had numerous replies – none of which I responded to. Some people said things like, “Of course money makes you happy,” “It may not make you happy, but it’s better to have it than not,” and “I think happiness is the wrong word.” I was still fretting over the title suggesting that money makes you happy.

If it were the case that money makes you happy, then obviously you would be a little happy if you had only a little money. If you had billions, you’d be in a perpetual state of bliss. Is this the case? I think not! If money were a source of happiness, it seems to me that intertwined within the fibers of a dollar bill would be the measurable element of happiness. Oh wait, there is no such happiness element. Money is inherently void of happiness.

OK, cynical ranting aside, money is useful. We need money to live in our society. There is nothing wrong with having money. As it was suggested in the article, getting a raise tends to produce feelings of joy, excitement, and what most of us would call happiness. Unfortunately, many people, including myself, have mistakenly fallen for these temporary feelings produced by the acquisition of money (and things) as a pathway to well-being and a fulfilled life - Happiness. As one person commented on my question, “Happiness is the wrong word.”

In the mindfulness practice I engage in we distinguish between stimulus driven pleasure and genuine happiness. Aside from the necessities needed to live, the best thing money (or any other material object for that matter) can reliably provide for us is stimulus driven pleasure. Typically, once the stimulus is gone, the pleasure is soon lost as well. Seeking “happiness” in external things puts us on what has been referred to as a hedonic treadmill – repeatedly pursuing temporary pleasure as if it were a true source of happiness. Unfortunately, these temporary feelings are often followed by suffering. So, we try it again. And again. Money is not a dependable means of sustained feelings of happiness. The truth is, we can be financially well-off and have the finest of material goods and still be abjectly miserable. On the other hand, it’s possible to be financially deprived and feel nourished, supported, and experience a deep sense of happiness and joy.

Genuine Happiness is an inside job.

Showing up to the events in our lives with attention and intention is how we develop a deep sense of well-being and an enduring happiness. If we show up to work for the sole purpose of getting a paycheck, my experience suggests that over time, I’ll eventually become disgruntled and discontented with my job. However, if I show up to my employment enthusiastic, inspired, interested, and with intention, work then turns out to be self-fulfilling, and my paycheck becomes a useful bonus. Showing up to life with value-based intentions will never later be a source of suffering.

The article in which the title sparked such indignation went on to suggest that bird diversity is as important to our happiness as money. It is true that for some people watching birds and listening to their songs can be a source of stimulus driven pleasure. It is not, however, the sights and sounds that provide a lasting fulfillment. Like money, birds and their characteristics are void of happiness. As I spend time in nature and photograph birds, what inspires lasting happiness is the quality of my attention, interest, and the curiosity that I bring with me on these bird outings.

This is true in all our affairs. If we try to find lasting happiness in people, places, and things, we will eventually be met with disappointment and suffering. There is no happiness element woven into the fibers of these externalities. Happiness and our overall well-being are created by what we bring to our interactions and relationships.

May you be your happiness.

You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!


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