Your Money Story: Happiness is in the Details


Each and every one of us has money story. The story is about our relationship with the concept of money. Our desire is for that story to have a happy ending. The story however, is often complicated.  If we have enough the relationship is good, but we could always have more. If it’s a bad relationship there is often denial along with credit card debt involved. There becomes an issue when our happiness and self worth is tied to our bank account.

Often there is a financial element associated with achieving one’s goals.  Since this is the case,  I want to have an idea of how this person perceives money and does it present a potential obstacle. The best way I find is to include the topic of money when creating a vision for the future.

Here’s the initial conversation.

Me: What do you desire from life?

(The dialogue continues after a deep breath and a sigh. Then after a moment…)

Client: Well, I just want to be happy!

Me: What does that mean to you?

Client: I don’t know…

Me: What are some things that will bring you happiness?

Client: More money?

Me: More money is only a secondary result. What is the primary result you’d like to have happen as a result of having more money?

(Client starts to think and then the real conversation begins.)

Identifying meaning is where our work will begin. Clarifying values and determining what what happiness means to them will play a more important role than “more money.” Through our work, they’ll soon discover that it is the lack of vision, clarity or detail for what they would use “more money” for that is actually holding them back from having the experiences that they desire. Focusing on the money element is preventing their minds from figuring out alternate ways of achieving their desires.

One of my clients took me up on the challenge to dream big and told me that he wanted to own a car collection like Jay Leno’s. He meant it in a tongue-in-cheek way, but that gave us a springboard into his vision for his life and career. We googled Leno’s car collection in addition to his annual salary. In 2013, Leno’s car collection was valued around $50 Million with enough motorcycles and cars to fill a 130 car garage.

Having an understanding of the value of collection, we could then work backwards to identify how much money my client would have to earn in order to afford a collection of that calibre. After doing the math and looking at his current earnings potential, my client realized that he really didn’t care about having that many cars. He just liked the idea of it. He wanted a car to tinker with and take out on the weekends.

There may be many things in life that we like the idea of, yet  haven’t taken the time to discover if it will bring true happiness. It’s not just about “more money.” Research from a 2010 Princeton study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, found that making more than $75,000 per year won’t significantly improve your happiness. This is where “doing the math” comes into play to help bring clarity as to what you truly desire.

Research from the field of Positive Psychology is proving that happiness is not found in things, rather it is found in meaning. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want nice things. All I’m saying is that if you want to be happier, you may want to look at creating meaningful relationships, find enjoyment in your work or spend more time on your hobbies.

The United States Declaration of Independence proclaims all people have “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Ultimately, I would suggest to look for meaning rather than happiness. It seems that in the US we’re focused finding happiness. Our consumer driven economy bombards us with what happiness is. A new car, luxury travel, expensive cloths and furnishings for your new home and we often buy into “the keeping up with the Jones” mentality. As part of the culture, we buy into consumerism and equate happiness with “more money.”

As an exercise on happiness and meaning, I suggest creating a vision board to serve as constant visual reminder of your money story, your goals and that which has meaning in your life. Include the people, places and things that have meaning. Include pictures that represent the type of work your desire, vacation of your dreams, places you’d like to live and the people you’d like to be surrounded by. Basically, include that which you hold value in on your vision board. Your money story will become clearer as will the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goals.

If you’re interested in checking out your level of happiness check out The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.

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