Money can’t buy happiness. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that cliche, complete with some chiding reason to abandon your financial goals altogether. And while I agree with that statement at face value, I also know that there’s a real correlation between money and happiness. But it’s the other way around.
Happiness can buy money.
Mr. FIREescape Story Time
Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I wasn’t that happy. Gasp! But it’s true.
I was constantly annoyed at work. I was grumpy on my commute, and quite honestly – I just wanted out.
So what did I do? I started playing childish pranks at work to vent my frustration, like switching people’s cups and photocopier passwords. KIDDING! I made some conscious choices to turn my grumpy self around.
Notably – I made the choice to be happier at work.
And voila! Once I started focusing on my work happiness and not on my work itself, I started getting more exciting job opportunities than I could even handle.
So what was that big change?
Actually, the big change was the start of my FIRE journey. I wanted to make enough money to not have to work, and when I did – I didn’t quit. I just stopped caring if I got fired and I went part-time.
Then came all the lucrative offers for promotions and special assignments. Sheesh! Anyway, I’m still happy to not have taken them, but it took me years to realize exactly why they were coming my way.
By the way, it turns out I’m not just some walking anomaly. There’s real research to back this up.
People who are happier are generally more willing to go out on a limb and push for unlikely opportunities like promotions. Opportunities that their pessimistic counterparts wouldn’t even bother pursuing.
Also, and this may come as a shock but, happier people are generally more likable. (It’s why your mom always told you to smile as a kid.) So if you’re more liked you might just get more favors like referrals, promotions, and mentorship.
In the end, you have more opportunities, better career options, and higher earning potential.
So the premise seems pretty obvious, (I would hope) but there’s actually some robust research to back this up.
There was a study called “Estimating the influence of life satisfaction and positive affect on later income using sibling fixed effects” that followed thousands of siblings over several decades to discover that the happier sibling (from childhood) in any given family had a higher income.
I like that the study compared siblings to counter any “privilege” differentials between families. Genius!
What Should YOU Do?
My personal and unbiased advice would be to strive for early retirement without actually leaving your job. I think everyone should have this goal – which is why I created this blog – and again, I am completely unbiased. 😉
But if that all sounds like a little much, my next-best advice would be to lead a life that strives to maximize your happiness no matter what.
Choosing happiness is a smart move for a myriad of reasons, including your mental and physical well-being, but the cherry on top is that it will actually make you richer. So you can chase happiness for selfish, capitalistic reasons too!
How To Lead A Happy Life
There are literally tons of books on being happy, but you don’t have to bother reading them. Just focus on a few undeniable truths:
Focus on the Bigger Picture.
Pursue some long-term goals, have a purpose, and give some meaning to your life. This is literally how Aristotle defined happiness, so I think we’re on to something.
Sound like a big undertaking? Just dedicate your time to something you enjoy doing and mastering, instead of just Netflix and Doritos, and the rest will follow.
Be kind to others.
The quickest and easiest way to become instantly happy is to help other people. It’s like some sort of endorphin cheat code.
If a little old lady asks me to reach something from the top shelf at the grocery store, I’m on cloud 9 for the rest of the day.
If no one ever asks you to reach something from the high shelf at the grocery store, it may be because you wear a grumpy frown on your face and they don’t want to approach you. So go back to what your mom taught you, and put a smile on your face.
Have a social network.
Even if you’re not particularly social, keeping in touch with a social network (in person, not on your phone) like high school buddies, work friends, or your kids’ friends’ parents will keep your happiness baseline up.
Your social network can also help you with the other two happiness truths: pursuing long-term goals and being kind to others.
Bonus points if these people are also positive and happy, and if they happen to be the type to lend a hand if you’re in need or refer you for a better-paying job.
So, does being happy really make you rich?
I’ve made my case for the very real correlation between happiness and money. But what has your experience been like? Let me know in the comments.
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