Money can’t buy happiness. It seems pretty obvious, and I’m sure if you point-blank ask anyone if they believe that it can, they would say no. It’s ironic then that most people live their lives as if the opposite were true. Often enough we work at jobs we loathe, and work ourselves to the bone to make money, and then work even harder to make a bit more. As if, somehow, money is the end goal. As if money is our life’s purpose.
In the United States, the American Dream is built on the premise that you can go from rags to riches—though I think it was originally intended to mean wealth of opportunity, and not simply monetary. I believe, however, that the real silver lining in the American Dream (and indeed in “The Dream” for any country or nationality) is that somehow after going from rags to riches, you can then be happy. Perhaps even deliriously happy and free. My question is, “Why wait?”
Now, I’m not saying we don’t need money, or that being rich won’t necessarily bring you certain freedoms. Certainly if you don’t have enough to survive, your happiness will not be your main concern. However, having lots of money is not necessary for happiness or freedom.
My Attempt to Buy Happiness
Almost six years ago, I had just finished my masters degree, and expected my son to join my family the following year. I decided at that point to get a job in industry because I had had enough of graduate school and I liked the idea of having more money, which seemed like a good idea with a baby on the way. Jobs were not too hard to come by back then, and I was hired within a short time with a pretty hefty salary.
I quickly settled into the life of a parent as I remembered it from childhood. I worked 9-5 to make money, hung out with my family in the evenings and on weekends, and bought stuff. I had achieved the ideal life. Or so I believed. I had a family, I had more than enough money, and I had a big screen TV, nice furniture, a car, etc. etc. So then, why was I miserable? Why was I so depressed that I found it difficult to even get out of bed in the morning?
With much reflection, I believe I know why. I was working at a job that I hated, which left a massive hole in my being that desperately craved filling. At the time, I didn’t know how to fill it, and so I tried to stuff it full of money and things . Of course, this didn’t work. And the longer I tried to do the impossible, the more miserable and depressed I became.
I won’t focus on the negative: working at a job that I hated. Instead, I will focus on the positive. A realization that I needed to find my purpose in life. Something that brought me personal satisfaction and fulfilment. A realization that doing something that I loved was far more important than money.
I spent a long time reflecting on what made me happy. During my search, I ended up going back to do my PhD, but that didn’t give me what I needed either, though it was a step in the right direction. At that point, I decided to go get some help from a career counsellor. I figured I am not the first person to have problems finding a career that made me happy, and surely they would be able to help. Turns out I was right.
The counsellor had me fill out a few questionnaires dealing with my personality. I filled out a Myers-Briggs type indicator, and a strong interest inventory profile. These gave me insights into myself that I had felt for a while during my self-reflective stage, but had not quite managed to think or say “out loud.”
My personality type is ENFP. The most popular occupations for those with my personality type are artistic and involve working with people. The strong interest inventory noted very similar things. My top three interest areas being: performing arts, writing and mass communication, and politics and public speaking.
At this point I had a real awakening. It wasn’t that the tests told me exactly what to do, but rather let me tune into something I had buried and suppressed. I had denied fundamental parts of my personality for so long, it was no longer surprising to myself that I was miserable. At last, I felt that I had found something meaningful and helpful. It wasn’t long after that things began to improve for myself by leaps and bounds.
I immediately took action to bring arts back into my life. I took up singing lessons and learned to sing classical opera. I began acting lessons, and performed in many local plays and independent films. I realized that what I enjoy most about my PhD is teaching, and focused my attention on that. In the end, I was making far less money than before, but was finally truly happy. I had filled the hole within myself using those things I love most. Moreover, I no longer wanted to buy things to fill some void. I was sated. Finally, I was extremely happy, and it had nothing to do with money. To me, “The Dream” is not going from rags to riches, but living life in bliss, free to do what I love.
At this moment, I know I will finish my PhD and use it to teach others. I am also singing and acting as much as I can. I may not make as much money as being a software developer, but I am happy with what I do. At each moment I am doing what I love, and in that, I am free.
I leave you now with a few parting words. Find what you love, and do that. The money will come – if you’re not sure how, there are lots of people who can help you. With that, each day you are free to do what you love, and happiness will wash over you.