I’ve written about why I’m taking a break/sabbatical in the middle of my comfortable career. Its because I learned something over time. That money is not necessarily the “end all be all” we make it out to be in the U.S. Much of the importance we place on money stems from our psychological desire to control our environment and to live in comfort. There is nothing wrong with that, but we need to take it down a notch or risk having your happiness tied to money, or possessions, or a “number”. Someday I’ll be happy, when I have X dollars and I’m comfortable.
But this is a fallacy. And it’s VERY risky. Its why the two most dangerous times in one’s life are the year you were born and the year you retire. That’s crazy. How the h*** can that be? Because when most finally get their “number”, they no longer have purpose and they’ve let their relationships and overall well being atrophy over time. Its another result of living life in the “Drift” and ignoring the 5 Regrets of The Dying I mentioned here. We are really just animals.
Don’t get me wrong, I think being fiscally conservative is a great thing and money provides many benefits. But I have lived and learned to know with 100% clarity that money is not what we need as human beings after certain basic needs are met. Remember, we are just animals. We have other social and psychological needs that wire us and underpin our happiness. We’ve lost sight of this somehow.
To prove this, Princeton economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking Fast and Slow) discovered there is an income plateau, after which more money has no measurable effect on day-to-day contentment. The number is currently ~$75,000 per year. Obviously cost of living depends on where you reside, but the point is it’s much less than most people think. And not much more than the current median income of $50,000-$60,000. This shocked me. And as I thought about it, I took a hard look at my life and noticed that I knew a lot of happy people that didn’t make a ton of money or have huge houses or fancy cars. But they had the other important stuff, like healthy relationships and a life that was aligned with their values.
Further, having lived in both Mexico City and São Paulo, Brazil (two cities with extreme poverty), I have seen many people who are well below poverty lines, but have the other human elements that supported their happiness. Money truly wasn’t everything and it made a big impact on me.
Your income plateau number may be different, but keep in mind there are plenty of millionaires who are miserable. How can that be if more money brings happiness as we are led to believe in this country? Lawyers are a great example. They are known to be some of the unhappiest people (Sorry Lawyers, this is proven) but often considered “successful” based on the misguided importance of money, security, and material possessions in this country. I know many Lawyers and Bankers that are truly unhappy deep down. Don’t let people fool you. The majority of these people are not honest with themselves (I wasn’t).
So think about what makes you truly happy and how you can bring more of that into your life. We now know more money isn’t necessarily the answer. And thats actually quite helpful and freeing for me.
Author Michael Hyatt in Living Forward calls it “the Drift”. The Drift is when we begin floating through life, and over time, become unaware, distracted, and overwhelmed (by things we unknowingly let overwhelm us). The majority of our population does this and knows the feeling.
It starts early. Even if you are fortunate enough to attend college, we are rushed to decide on life-long careers with very little self-awareness. So we end up pursuing careers based on external pressures or that will provide financial stability. That’s a bad recipe. It’s why Europeans take Gap Years.
It’s also why I’m taking a Sabbatical (a.k.a. a Grown Up Gap Year) in the middle of my career with no job guarantee on my return. Because I was stuck in the Drift and being misaligned with your values will eventually eat you alive. It’s why people have mid-life crises. Lawyers are a great example. They are known to be highly compensated, but highly unhappy. Many are actually miserable (sorry Lawyers, this is proven). I know many Lawyers and Bankers who have lots of material possessions, but are completely unfulfilled.
One needs to look no further than the 5 Regrets of the Dying to affirm that money and possessions are not what matter in the long run. Being true to yourself, relationships, that’s what matters. This should sound alarms in our society and we need to start taking it seriously. It’s also a big reason I’m taking the risk to leave my comfortable and well-paying job to pursue a life that is aligned with my values. And to create the space to dig deep and take the long view. To grow my relationships that have atrophied while I lived in the Drift. Because I know it’s what matters in the end.
But many never make (or take) the time to STOP and ask the big questions. Ask what we truly value. I didn’t. It takes a while to dig deep and really think it through. So if you are feeling unfulfilled, try to take a pause. Even if only for a few hours. Or minutes. And think about what you value. It doesn’t mean you have to leave your job. We all have families, mortgages (hopefully one you can afford), obligations. But start taking action to find what will bring you true fulfillment and peace in the end. It’s not money or possessions. It’s the soft stuff. The intangibles. Don’t forget that.
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These are interesting . A good read.