Imagine hitting all your life and financial goals. Sounds great, right?
Not always. Many people who get there hit a funk.
Pat Flynn, an online entrepreneur, received this chilling email one day. He shared this email in his book Will It Fly? Read it if you think money alone is all that matters:
Subject: I make $20,000 per month and I’m not happy.
Hi Pat, I’m sorry to email you like this, but I had no one else to turn to. I feel like I know you because I listen to your voice all day. You’re like a friend, even though we’ve never met. Sorry if that sounds weird.
Anyway, I want to thank you. You don’t know this, but you’ve taught me so much about how to build a successful online business. I currently generate over $20k per month in recurring revenue, but here’s the thing…
I’m unfulfilled. I’m not as happy as I thought I was going to be.
A few years ago, before I started my company, the thought of making this kind of money online was a pipe dream. Now that my “dream” has come true, I realize that I didn’t give my dream much thought at all and there’s much more to life than just making money.
I don’t even know why I’m emailing this to you, Pat. Maybe just to get it off my chest and share it with someone who might understand because you seem to have it all figured out. I don’t know. I just opened my email and started typing, which is funny now that I think about it because I jumped into it without a plan, sort of like how I started my business. Clearly I need to work on that.
Anyway, I don’t expect a reply because I know you’re busy. Thank you Pat, for all you do.
This man is not alone. Through my hundreds of hours of study of successful people, I’ve found many celebrities and successful entrepreneurs come forward with the same conclusion that wealth and/or fame doesn’t guarantee happiness.
What separates them from happy people?
In his book, Pat explains that he frequently meet entrepreneurs like this who have “put their ladder on the wrong building and made it to the top.” They’ve built businesses they didn’t enjoy, not considering what fulfilled them. Passion matters. But even if you become rich and passionate about what you do the following questions may still pop up: “Is this all there is to it?”, “What do I do now?” and “I don’t feel any happier” pop up.
If you want my thorough explanation on why money alone doesn’t guarantee happiness, read on. If you prefer audio, this is an extra special episode of Will’s Personal Development Podcast because it is a theme that I see is a problem for billions of people who are told by mainstream entertainment that money or fame will make them happy… when it does not. And I will prove it to you, with science.
In this episode, I dive into what to do if you are rich and successful but not happy. I will use science backed answers to explain why this happens and how to fix this. Be prepared to learn:
- why you do not need to give all your money to charity to feel happy.
- why people who have nothing can have so much fun and be so happy.
- what rigorous, unbiased scientific research reveals about the relationship between money and happiness (it’s shocking).
Without further ado, please enjoy the episode:
Here is a summary of some of the big points I brought up in the podcast for those who are busy:
- Purpose, constant challenge in your work, and enjoyment of your work contribute to happiness — something money can’t always buy and something some successful people forsake when they get rich and retire.
- Generally speaking, people find meaning and fulfillment through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Survival and food come first. Some turn to religion. Others turn to making an impact before they day. Others want to be known and mattered long after they die. Some want to leave a positive impact on society or a certain group of people.
- Exercise, nutrition, and sleep matter.
- Practice happiness-building practices that science shows actually brings happiness (exercise, gratitude, savoring the good, avoiding dwelling on the bad and comparison, and/or religion). See the links in the Show Notes below for specific practices you can take.
- Don’t get it wrong. Science shows money helps to a point, especially if you haven’t hit the threshold of being able to afford food, healthcare, and shelter. But after that, studies show that the correlation diminishes.
If you are ever struggling with not feeling accomplished or happy with what you have achieved, even if you have achieved a lot, try this:
Compare yourself to where you were in the past rather than to others better than you or your future potential. You may be constantly beating yourself up by always comparing yourself to someone who is better. This creates an endless cycle of disappointment. I learned this technique from the strategic coach, Dan Sullivan, who has coached over a thousand entrepreneurs.
If you are feeling unfulfilled despite being successful by society’s standards, try out a new career, business, or form of work.
So, let’s dive into the science.
Does Money Buy Happiness? How People Mistake Pleasure for Happiness
Money can buy pleasure and/or reduce suffering. Pleasure is different from happiness.
This is a subtle difference that even the founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, didn’t seem to understand. I was reading his book, Delivering Happiness, and it made a lot of great points on the science of happiness, some of which is mentioned here.
But he referred to moments that were clearly temporary pleasures, like opening a brand new pair of shoes, interchangeably with moments that held long-lasting well-being (happiness), like strong friendships. This mistake frustrated me because not understanding this difference is a huge part of why most people are confused about happiness.
Money can buy all sorts of pleasure. But pleasure would be anything that is superficial or materialistic at its core. Pleasure are moments of temporary boosts in positive feeling and enjoyment, that quickly leave you in the next few minutes, hours, weeks, or days.
True happiness, on the other hand, is enduring, resilient, and can last years no matter what troubles life throws at you.
How do you tell if something will deliver pleasure or real happiness?
Use the superficial or materialistic test. If it’s something that costs a lot of money and returns you to your normal state of happiness after a while, it’s probably a pleasure-delivering item rather than a happiness-delivering item. Examples include sex, women, fancy cars, mansions, new electronics, vacations, and expensive clothes.
Why don’t pleasures bring long-term happiness?
Humans are designed to adapt to pleasures and hardships, returning to a baseline. There is a scientific term for this called hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill. Research found that lottery winners and paraplegics after an accident returned to their baseline levels of happiness a few months and a year after their big event. We base our happiness off our relative, daily routine.
Similarly, a rich person can upgrade their lifestyle and spending, only to eventually adapt to that extravagant lifestyle as if it is normal. Like a drug addict, this person feels the urge to seek larger, absolute amounts of stimuli to get the same feeling in a never-ending, unfulfilling game. The focus on what brings happiness is set on a false ideal.
The Science of Money vs. Happiness
A 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton was conducted to discover if money buys happiness through 450,000+ responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Happiness was measured on two levels. The first metric was the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience, which is the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant.
They found that emotional well-being rose with income until $75,000, a respectable middle-class income. So it’s not that being filthy rich makes you happiness. It’s that not being poor saves you from pain. Specifically, they found emotional pain from poverty came from ill health, loneliness, and divorce.
The second metric was life evaluation, which is the thoughts that people have about their lives when they think about it. This broad metric is likely a bit more “inaccurate” since our memories are faulty, and we often remember only the highlights, good or bad. With this metric, they did find it correlated with income as it rose with no cap. But you got less bang for your buck as you went up. People measured their life evaluation on a relative percentage scale. So a 20% raise gave the same boost regardless of base income, making it harder for someone rich to experience the same boost.
Often, the most science-backed factors for improving happiness are free, such as gratitude and helping others. But even if they cost little money, it stills require effort. One of the strongest factors is strength of relationships. And if you don’t have friends, you can go out and make friends.
The Yes or No Test
These questions will give you a guide towards what you’re missing in your life when it comes to happiness. You don’t have to answer Yes to all of these to reach your peak states of happiness but it’s a red flag if you’re answering No to many or all of these:
- Are you fulfilled with the work you do?
- Do you have clear goals that you work towards for most of your day?
- Do you have a lot of fun with your job?
- Do you feel a sense of contribution from your recurring work where you feel you are delivering value to other people?
- Do you feel a sense of purpose from what you’re doing?
- Are you challenged by your work (enough that it’s tough but not so much that it’s overwhelming)?
- Do you have strong social relationships with friends and family and connect with them in person every day or at least once a week?
- Are you grateful for what you have in life and make an effort to count your blessings at least once a week?
- Are most or all of your top life goals already achieved so that you wouldn’t regret it if you died today and didn’t accomplish them? If not, are you at least making and executing on a plan to accomplish them?
- Do you visit outdoor, scenic environments often?
- Do you exercise frequently?
Summing It Up
Through my studies and own struggles with happiness, I’ve discovered a lot. But I believe happiness can be summed it succinctly. The following behaviors can all help add to your sustainable joy and happiness:
- Having enough money (at least a middle-class, first world income)
- Having strong friendships, relationships, and a local community
- Not having too much stress in your daily life
- A lifestyle and work that keeps you busy, fulfilled, and that you enjoy
- Having the ability to see different perspectives to see a negative situation in a good light.
- Expressing gratitude
- Giving kindness, compassion, and/or value to others
It’s one of my missions to teach more people about this because unfortunately, a lot of the world still spends most of their lives pursuing a false belief that money will bring them happiness, only for that to fail them. We need to only look at poor people we know who are filled with happiness and joy to know that money isn’t necessary.
- Recommended Books (affiliate links)
- Solve for Happy, the Chief Business Officer at Google finds that all the toys he buys himself with his wealth won’t fix his unhappiness. He goes on a quest to use his engineering skills to discover what brings happiness by studying the psychology and science of happiness.
- The How of Happiness
- Hardwiring Happiness
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- The Blue Zones of Happiness
- My blog post on the science of happiness.
- My blog post discussing Vishen Lakhiani’s book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind.
- Dan Bilzerian, famous for showing off his luxurious life on Instagram, talking about happiness on Larry King Now:
- Dan Bilzerian creating his own video, addressing whether money brings happiness. He says it brings pleasure, but not happiness. When you raise the bar, it becomes your new standard and you get used to it and won’t be satisfied with the lower standard of living you used to enjoy. Climbing the ladder and enjoying the journey will make you happy. “Money and Pussy” are black holes; you can never have enough.
- Jeff Walker, a famous and wealthy internet entrepreneur, on achieving all his financial goals, still feeling lost, and deciding on a purpose:
- Cara DeLevigne’s talk on happiness:
- Other successful people coming out about happiness and money.
Get A Happiness Cheatsheet for Free
I’ve gone through my own struggles with happiness and set out to find the truth. I asked many, including religious people, poor people, and scientists. I found out the truth through rigorous scientific studies that have been done.
If you want a shortcut to your happiness, get this cheatsheet free by clicking the button below.
Here is the question of the day for you: What is the #1 lesson you learned from listening to this episode and how will you put it into action immediately? Please let me know in the comments below.