Calculator and Money

The average person, over the course of a typical lifetime, will concern him or herself with the same fundamental set of issues. You’ll have worries about your health. You’ll have worries about your personal relationships. And, perhaps most commonly, you will have your worries about money.

The old adage teaches us that money can’t buy happiness. For the most part, this is true. You can be immensely rich, own multiple mansions and drive all sorts of fancy sports cars, but you might still be unhappy with your lot in life. Indeed, having more money could bring upon even more problems. That being said, money is necessary. Money is required.

It Can Affect Everyone

If you are living in poverty, not knowing where you’ll get your next meal and not knowing if you’ll live to see tomorrow, you can’t really be happy. If the bills are stacking up and you’re struggling to keep up with payments, it’s hard to be happy too. The problem is that this sense of “I don’t have enough money” can happen at any level of wealth. You could be making a very comfortable income and still struggle to keep up with the bills, because you may have over-extended yourself.

Money is a necessary part of modern life, but it doesn’t have to be the dominant part of your life. As much as I enjoy having new things, the fact of the matter is that you can be perfectly happy after you’ve reached a certain minimum level of relative wealth. If your basic needs are met, everything else is really just a bonus. It’s about changing your perspective. When money can be less of priority, you can better focus your energies elsewhere.

A great example of this is my friend John Chow. He makes a sizable amount of money, but he doesn’t feel rich because of the cash in his bank account. He feels rich, because he has time freedom, because he has the time to spend with his daughter and do the things they love to do. Money doesn’t hurt, to be sure, but it is not the source of his joy.

A Life Worth Living

When it comes to measuring the relative wealth of someone, we usually turn to his or her net worth. This factors in not only what they own (assets), but also any debts that they may have (liabilities). It doesn’t matter if you own a $10 million mansion if you somehow owe the bank $12 million. At the same time, the person who has a large net worth may feel that his or her life is still empty, like it is lacking something.

And it probably is.

Happiness isn’t about having the biggest bank account or driving the fanciest car. It’s about having a strong life worth. It’s about having that sense of perceived progress, but it’s also about feeling like you’re doing something worthwhile. It’s about feeling that your life is worthwhile, that it means something.

Beyond the Cash Flow

For some people, that might mean having a loving family with whom to share all those precious memories. For others, it may be a dedication to their craft, doing and being better at something than anyone has ever been. For others, it may mean having a lasting impact on the world, leaving the world a better place for having been there.

The irony is that you can’t chase happiness. You can’t chase meaning or life worth. You have to create it. And there is no one-size-fits-all instruction manual on how to do that. There is no universal hex key that comes with your “life” kit from IKEA. Indeed, the life worth living is the one that you figure out yourself.