Money Can’t Buy Happiness

(Q) We met some years ago and our encounter was very helpful. I am writing for help with something that is a bit embarrassing. I could not bring myself to broach the question in a private session and even now I am sending it anonymously, hoping you will answer it anyway. Simply put, I have amassed (legally) a great sum of money but have derived little satisfaction from it. I did not inherit it and did not grow up in privileged environments, though I know them now. It came relatively easy. A little at first, then more, and then much more. I have heard all the standard lines mocking my situation; all the people that say they would trade places with me in a heartbeat. Perhaps now you understand the anonymous signature. I trust you will respond as ethically as you always have.

(A) As you say, I am sure you have heard and read almost everything that can be said about this subject. Yet it persists. I once knew a bald man who was convinced that he would be happier if he had real hair, as he put it. I knew another with a condition characterized by excessive hair growth. I wondered what would happen if their conditions were reversed, but life doesn’t usually work that way.

It seems you are lucky at some things and unlucky at others, as most of us are. Some people are very comfortable with good looks, others find it an obstacle to being truly seen. Youthful good looks are not an indicator of the same later in life. Life challenges us to experience things differently. Turn by turn we often learn and grow. But not always. We must learn to bend like the willow. Growth is rarely obvious or linear, but there is a progression to it. You have discovered firsthand what others mostly read in slogans like, “money can’t buy happiness.” The longer (and preferred) version reads, “money can’t buy happiness, but it can come close.” I’m sure you know these well and hope you are not offended by my mentioning them.

Money can buy things. If things represent happiness, then money will do the trick. Money can be exchanged for things of value. It can even buy freedom under certain circumstances. I knew someone who raised a large sum to pay a ransom on a hostage life. In that situation money was traded for a life. My perspective about money was changed overnight. Yours might also one day. So, money is a placeholder; a stand-in for almost anything – but by itself and without a purpose it is not worth much.

I would like to suggest you try an experiment, one in which money occupies your place in life, and you occupy the place that money previously held. It would look something like this: The money in your life becomes an earthly entity, a being whose life has meaning and purpose – let’s call him Free Spent. You become a creative idea called Money Pro, a thing that can be moved around, traded, and used in any way whatsoever. Although you have traded places, you must work together as a team. Free Spent, a newly minted man, calls the shots. Money Pro (you as the placeholder) must go wherever you are sent. Follow?

When I was a kid, we played a game called, Truth or Dare. Answering a truth question could be so scary and embarrassing that you would choose a dare instead. The options were never good, but you had to choose one. The “punishment” for not choosing was even worse. I bring this up because as you relinquish your place (and power) to Free Spent, you may watch your money going to places, people and things you cannot imagine now. Likewise, as Money Pro, you will be the vehicle that experiences movement and purpose. And this may be exactly what you have been missing.

Money must be moved; it is meant to change hands and be exchanged. People must also be moved to engage money with a purpose in mind. This is one of the reasons that hoarding does not work unless the ultimate purpose includes sharing. That is not to say that money cannot be saved, but it is important for it to have purpose; a reason for existing. In Ancient Egypt and other old-world cultures, grain was moved between granaries because it served the law of increase and distribution. These celebrations were also public spectacles; a show designed to make everyone feel included in their country’s wealth. Today, wealth is put on display in more individual ways.

Money will not make you happy, that is not its job. Its only job is to be used in some purposeful way, which means that it is your job too. Money is only ink on paper, or ones and zeros with commas in-between, or any other commodity that has perceived value. Your job is to discover what does make you happy. What is it that makes you feel creative and alive? How can you go there or do that more often? Wealth inspires loneliness in some, can you include others in your dream? In the meantime, put your money to work or surround yourself with people who know how to use it for good. You may also try thinking of yourself as being wealthy in other ways, challenge yourself to develop new abilities. Helping others to find happiness may fuel their dreams and yours too. I look forward to your next steps on your journey of discovery!

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