Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness

by Curt Remington

We need to change our priorities. Many of us Americans seem to believe that money can buy us happiness. Or maybe we think that all the stuff we can buy with it will bring us happiness. It might bring some happiness, temporarily. According to a 2006 Princeton study, moving from poverty up to middle class does result in more happiness. Beyond that, additional money doesn’t add much to happiness, and it may result in more stress.

Luxurious Yacht in the Meditteranean

All the work it takes to get more money certainly can. In the quest for money, many of us work long hours, leaving little time for family, friends and recreation. And people borrowing money beyond their means led to our record foreclosure rates and an economy that’s in shambles. The bailouts helped our government’s debt get to its current level, over $12 Trillion dollars.

I saw some signs of this back in the 90’s, while appraising real estate in an affluent area. Many people were building gigantic new homes with 4000 or more square feet of living area, including rooms that rarely got used. It takes a lot of stuff to fill those houses. Some of these people were truly wealthy, while others just wanted to be. They lived beyond their means, trying to keep up with the neighbors. We’d see homeowners run up their credit cards, then refinance their house, again and again.

The neighbors probably weren’t trying to get each other to spend, but  corporations with marketing experts sure were. They really want you to buy their stuff, or take out their loan. They’re willing to start working on you when you’re young and impressionable. American kids see 40,000 commercials a year. By the age of two, they ask for products by brand name, and by three, they connect a brand with qualities like cool, smart or strong. Shortly after my daughters learned “daddy,” they learned complex words like “McDonalds.” Corporations are out to make money, and they don’t care if they turn us into a bunch of materialistic shopaholics.

Small French Fishing Boat

Small Fishing Boat w/Happy Fishermen

These corporations don’t even seem to care about the impact on the environment. The average American uses 4.5 times as much resources as the average Costa Rican. There’s an index that measures happiness, longevity and environmental impact, the Happy Planet Index. Of 143 countries, Costa Rica ranked number one, while the US ranked 114. It’s not that we’re so unhappy, but our happiness takes a lot of resources.

Personally, I’m pretty happy, but I’ve definitely been guilty of buying and working too much. For a variety of reasons, my wife and I fell into working as many as 80 hours a week during the crazy years of mortgage refinancing. Even while working that much, I’d find time to go on Ebay or Amazon and buy something I didn’t need. Soon, it would go into storage. It was a good thing I had a fairly big house and a pole barn. During my 20 years of appraising, far too many of those years involved working long hours, with not enough time for much else.

Eventually, we both got tired of working constantly and putting our enjoyment on hold. We sold our appraisal business and moved to Bellingham, Washington. We downsized into a smaller house with a smaller lot and no pole barn. It didn’t hurt our happiness a bit, although once in a while, I miss the pole barn.

We found this area to have a healthy set of priorities. People seemed more laid back and happy. There’s a strong sense of community and caring. When I started shopping at Fred Meyers, I wondered how the cashier always seemed to know the people in line in front of me. One day, I realized that they were just that friendly. There’s also gratitude for this wonderful place and an emphasis on healthy outdoor activities and having fun, maybe more so than on making money. These are all values that people can embrace, wherever they live. On a trip to Italy, a few summers ago, what really stood out to me was the small cars, small houses and happy people.

Hard work can be necessary and even fun at times, especially if you enjoy your job. Just make sure to keep some balance, and don’t buy into the buying more will make you happy mindset. Some of the best things in life are free or close to it, like spending time with your loved ones, a beautiful view or a walk in the rain. You might even decide to work on your creativity writing, singing, playing music or starting an art project. And of course, you can meditate.

4 thoughts on “Changing Priorities

  1. Leila Summers

    Hi Curt, this is so true! Last night I watched the documentary (conspiracy) movie Zeitgeist. Have you seen it? Wow. It is a shocking reminder of how ‘money’ controls us, when actually, there isn’t really any! Yet this is something that enslaves us all. Oh boy, I am dreaming of a self sufficient farm even more now… And you are right, the important things in life are FREE. Love, appreciation, gratitude. Thanks for this reminder. Kindest, Leila

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    Schöner Artikel – davon will ich gerne mehr lesen!

  3. Robin

    Curt, I was sorry to hear about your cancer, but it is quite beautiful in the approach you have taken for your wellness, together with your wife. Both your insite is refreshing and somehow, I feel myself feeling lighter, almost a physical feeling. Reading your article on money and the status of how alot of us evaluate our successes in life, what and how money, our jobs help and contribute to making our lives easier and many times, more difficult, including all the stress that come in hand, is every bit what I feel has been happening in my own life for years now. My husband also works construction, til recently a couple of weeks ago, due to the downfall in construction jobs, the house we built, but couldn’t sell due to the down-fall of the economy in 2008, not to mention a huge home mortgage, moving into the house to try and save it, with the hopes to sell it in the next 1 – 2 years. Alot of stress over jobs, income, mortgage, selling and day to day expenses are tremendous. I have since returned to college with the hopes of improving my work status and income. The last few years have been up and down with his self-employed construction. Some months no work at all, then lots of clientele all at once, then some cancelling their projects, always seems to happen at the worst times. As my previous employment was in an insurance office, years ago, not in underwriting or sales (not a sales person, unfortunately) but handling injury insurance claims, Bellingham does not have alot of work in the claims field for injuries and we do not want to reside in a larger city, like Seattle — and so, two weeks ago to keep our mortgage payments up, he has gone to work as a long haul truck-driver. Though he will be gone a good four-weeks at a time, it appears the income will be steady and with myself having return to college with hopes of graduating in another one-year, I will have a better opportunity for legal work in the Bellingham area. I feel I have always relied alot of my everydays on my self-felt feelings that come from everything around me. In the past, several years, these feelings have become tumoultous, as I can’t trust as strongly as I use to my immediate sense of direction. How to fix that direction, what to do with my work life, how much can I help our financial situation and living in a house that should have been sold, now trying hard every month to make the mortgage, not to mention the everyday other expenses. I really desire to get my self direction back, my sense of feeling everything around me and knowing how I fit in and what to do, not do by the sensation of low and high energies I’ve always felt since a child, but now are swirling around me in confusion. Well, too shorten this writing, it was refreshing to read your articles. Maybe in time, I will feel that sense of me, again.
    I feel it is my intuition that speaks to me daily, but has become so cluttered with the stress of the past few years. Sometimes, I really enjoy sleeping as my dreams feel like a vacation, where I don’t have to look at the everyday stresses of money, jobs, mortgages, and other area’s where money affects our lives everyday, right down to putting gas in the car. I hope you can understand this written version, which is very hard for me to get a feel of, but the feeling of having rocks piled on top of me, with no chance of getting out from under them, but rather getting pushed down into the soil by their weight. Well, I’m subscribing to your newsletter and I am getting a great feeling, good sensation just reading your writings, like maybe my old self ability of handling my life will return to me. Having always relied on my intuition, it will be a load lifted to have it return to me, without all the confusing it now comes through me, right through my back into my arms, wrists, hands, ankes. I really can’t explain the sensation of my intuition, but having it so confused or befuddled the past few years has greatly impacted what and how I should do or not do things in my everyday life. Your newsletter made me feel lighter, feel better, a bit of myself returned to me, if only I can keep those positive sensation, feelings with me, around me, as before were there so automatically. ~ Sincerely, Robin

  4. admin Post author

    Thanks so much for writing such a thoughtful and expressive post. I’m sorry to hear about the hardship you’re going through. There certainly has been a lot of that in recent years. Thank you also for subscribing to my newsletter.

    For letting go of stress and all the emotions that hardship bring up, two meditation exercises are enormously helpful, Grounding and Running Your Energies. You can find these exercises on this website or in my book, Simple Meditation: A Spiritual Connection for Transforming Your Life. You can find the book at the major bookstores in Bellingham or on Amazon. I just remembered that when you signed up for the newsletter, you probably received my eight-page report on meditating. It may have all you need.

    Some of our most important lessons come from difficult times, if we can just do our best to keep moving forward. Thank you again for your kind words and for sharing your story. May you have a wonderful weekend, especially now that we’re seeing some Whatcom county sunshine.

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