Blog #7: How Money Buys Happiness

I don’t care who you are, what your name is, what you look like, where you’re from, what you’re studying, what you’re optimizing for, or what your occupation is…

The fact of the matter is this: If you’re in your twenties — or, hell, if you have a pulse and plan on sticking around five years from now — there’s something that I need you need to understand. The sooner you get it, the sooner you can live the “good life.”

You need to ruthlessly accumulate wealth and learn how to sustain it. Today.

Don’t roll your eyes at me, either.

I get it — a surface level, we all know why having money is important. But few *actually* understand how big of a role it plays in the grand scheme of things…

And far too often, having money — or not having money — is the difference between living in a constant state of fear and living a life in peace and equanimity. 

So, without futher ado, here are three reasons why you must focus on attaining wealth if you want to be happier.

1) Via Negativa: Addition By Subtraction

Case study after case study, we hear people that earn seven, eight, and nine figures tell us that money really can’t buy happiness.

But that’s not true.

(To a degree, at least)

Look, they’re absolutely right that there are plenty of intangible things in this world that are more important than money — health, relationships, and happiness to name a few. 

What they neglect to mention is this: you literally cannot even focus on them if you’re always worried about money.

In fact, Abraham Maslow, 20th century American psychologist and philosopher, illustrated this perfectly with his theory about human motivation. Maslow theorized that human motivation is set up in a way that prevents us from arriving at pyramid layer n + 1 without first satisfying layer n.

At the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid rest our basic physiological needs. Meaning, a constant and predictable supply of food, water, and shelter are of utmost importance. We MUST satisfy these dire needs before anything else, lest we might not survive. 

Perhaps you’ve never had to worry about these needs, but get this:  half of the world lives off of $5.50 a day or less — they certainly are.

Then, when our basic needs are met we can shift our focus to safety. Safety can be as extreme as the need to flee from one’s country due to war or as mild as needing job security and a savings account to store one’s wealth.

That said, ONLY if you’re in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent can you can begin focusing on levels three (relationships and belonging), four (self-esteem), and five (self-actualization) of the pyramid.

If you’ve got an internet connection and the spare time to read this article, then you’re probably not too concerned about these first two layers. Sure, we might have our doubts about job security from time to time — but most of us don’t have it ~that~ bad…

Or so we thought…

Here are a couple of data points to support my case that we’re not focused enough on wealth accumulation:

Both of these data points are staggering to me, but what confounds me most is the latter. In a world of abundance, it seems we’re still being plagued by money problems. So much for the American Dream, right?

What I opine is that our first order of operation should be “Via Negativa” — addition by subtraction as Nassim Taleb would put it.

Let me first explain what “Via Negativa” means with a few simple questions.

  • How foolish it would be to start a new diet but continue eating excessive amounts of Oreos on a daily basis?
  • How nonsensical it would be to spend half of your paycheck on lottery tickets if your goal was to become financially solvent?
  • Or, how counter-intuitive would it be to hang out with people that constantly berate you if you desperately wanted to be a happier person?

As you can see, the elimination of destructive habits alone will probably get you 80 percent of the way there.

Similarly, when we’re talking about becoming happier people, a great place to start would be by eliminating all of your money problems. Just think about it:

  • If your family, friends, and spouse are really ~that~ important to you, then you’ll want to have enough money to support and spend time with them.
  • If spirituality is a big part of your life, then it would be sage to alleviate yourself of exterior worries so that you can turn your focus inward.
  • And to really drive the point home, good bleeping luck improving your health & longevity whilst on a Ramen-noodle-budget.

None of this is to say that the solution is to stop spending $5 on coffee every morning. If it were really that easy, everybody would be rich.

I have nothing to sell you here. But to boil it down, you just need to (1) find a solution to a problem, (2) put yourself among the trillions of transactions that take place in the world every day, and (3) find a way to do it at scale.

Easier said than done — I, too, am trying to figure it all out.

But the moral of the story remains: Accumulate wealth (and protect it) so that your money problems go away.

2) Plan

I’ll get right to it on this one.

Something magical happens when you’ve eliminated all of your money problems:

Freedom, independence of thought, and the newfound ability to say “f*ck you.”

When you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, when you’re no longer a hamster running incessantly on a wheel, when years — even decades — of tunnel vision and decision-making predicated on fear begin to disappear…

… you’re all of a sudden able to open your eyes, breathe, and think about everything that’s going on around you.

What’s my purpose? Am I happy with where I’m at and who I’ve become? Is my job fulfilling? What else is out there?

The luxury to simply think — and be alone with one’s thoughts — is one of the most profound luxuries available to mankind in my opinion. But here’s the thing: society is constructed to prevent us from thinking. And in this society that was built for industry profits instead of happiness, it is supposed to be difficult to think.

The rich understand this quite well — this is why they outsource menial tasks. Instead of spending two hours per week mowing the lawn, they pay people to do it for them so that they can leverage their time to capitalize on higher ROI activities or simply spend more time doing what they love with whom they love. Conversely, the poor stay poor because they’ll do whatever it takes to put food on the table (and rightfully so).

What the rich understand is this:

After a certain point, trading money for time > trading time for money since time is limited (we’re mortal) and money is unlimited.

What’s more, American cities were constructed to maximize profits at the expense of time spent commuting every day and thus away from our loved ones. The 40-hour work week (with 44-50 hours being more accurate) tells us where to spend our time and energy. And mass media tells us what we should concern ourselves with and how to think about it.

Depressing to think about? Sure. There are, however, ways to get on the other side of the equation — we just need time to think about what they could be.

Henry Ford said it best:

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

The moral here: time (to think and self-examine) is better than money — get money so that you can save time.

3) Attack

Alright, alright.

So you’ve eliminated all of your money problems and have free’d up time for self-examination, successfully putting yourself in the 98th percentile.

Now that you’ve arrived, you can devise a plan for each problem that you face or area that you would like to improve in your life and attack them. One by one.

This can manifest itself in a plethora of ways, but off the top of my head:

  • Fixing a relationship with a family member, friend, or colleague
  • Addressing weak points
  • Trying new hobbies

Per Maslow, these motivations are represented in the top three layers of the pyramid: Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization…

Or as we call it in the world of sports, being on “offense.”

Eliminate money problems, spend more time thinking and doing meaningful activities with meaningful people, and capitalize on opportunities — that’s the message that I’m trying to get across here.

Money –> Time –> Pursuit of Happiness

The moral: Sure, money can’t buy happiness — but it can buy time, and time can help you figure out how to become happy again.

Outro

You know, it’s actually quite funny how we send eighteen-year-olds off to college and inundate them with tens of thousands of dollars in debt just months after spending twelve straight years doing K-12 when, most of the time, they have no clue what they’re getting in to. I, for example, had no idea what I was going to study until about half way in to my second year of university. And by then, I had already amassed ~$15,000 in student loan debt.

But you know what’s even funnier? 

After taking school very seriously, graduating with cum laude, and spending a full year working in corporate finance I realized that that route would slowly crush my soul if I stayed the course. In other words, it took about $60,000 to learn a lesson.

But if I’m being completely honest?

The $60,000 that I spent on a degree that I’ve thrown in the trash could be a bargain if it means I’ve learned a lesson that will serve me for a lifetime.

After spending time doing some self-examination and rerouting my future I have a much clearer picture of how I want to earn living for the next 3-5 years. However, I feel as if my purpose has strengthened even more:

To eliminate as many money problems as possible for not only myself, but my loved ones, and spend more time focusing on what really matters.

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