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Positive Psychology Reveals We Should Pursue Happiness for Money, Not Money for Happiness

Culture teaches us that "I will be happy when... I live in a bigger house... I can afford to go on more holidays... I have that new car, computer, outfit, etc." Fascinating research from the field of Positive Psychology reveals that what culture is teaching us is actually a myth and, crucially, it is time to change what we tell ourselves and our children.
So, what does society teach us? Here is just a flavour:

  • "Study hard at school, you need good grades to get a decent job."
  • "It is worth putting in long hours in your first job to get promoted."
  • "If you work really hard you will get that pay rise that you deserve."
  • "You can't leave earlier than everyone else, it will reflect badly upon you and your bonus."
  • "You must work hard to save for your retirement."
Whilst I cannot argue with these, what I will do is ask the question "when does society teach us to actually stop and enjoy ourselves?" Probably only at our retirement, but the sad fact is that the governments around the world are already increasing the retirement age. The British Government cite evidence that if they raised the retirement age to 70, then one in five people (and one in three men) would actually die before qualifying for their pension. Even without the retirement age rising, those who make it to state retirement age can only expect to live, on average, just over a decade post retirement. Society needs and encourages us to be in the rat race. Most of us only 'get out' when it is too late. Perhaps it is time to rethink what we are taught?
But we all know that money makes us happy. For example, it is obvious that we will be happier if we win the lottery over something awful happening to us, such as losing a limb. Yet staggering results from Positive Psychology experiments show that even when comparing the impact on our happiness of winning millions compared to losing a limb, we are completely mistaken. Experiments have shown that within two years after these two major life events there is no difference in happiness on average between people in these two groups.
Now think about the lifestyle of the super wealthy: dream holidays, luxury yachts, private jets, staggering homes, eating the finest food, and owning beautiful clothes and cars. They have it all; this must be the secret to happiness. Again, we are wrong. Astonishingly, thirty-seven percent of the people on Forbes' list of Wealthiest Americans are less happy than the average American. Research has shown that once a person has achieved a basic safety net of money, increases in wealth actually have a negligible increase on our levels of happiness.
One of the reasons that money does not make us happy is because of a principle called hedonic adaption. This is the process by which something good has less and less of a positive impact on us over time, simply because we get used to it and start to take it for granted. If you have ever bought a brand new car, you will remember the moment when you first stepped inside it. You felt excited and happy. The second time you drove it, you still got a buzz but by the 100th journey the novelty has worn off.
Positive Psychology teaches us not to pursue money to make you happy but even more staggeringly, it is now revealing the secret that happiness can lead to us earn more money.
In an excellent research piece, Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues present some fantastic evidence that happiness actually causes financial success. For example, Diener and colleagues related measures of cheerfulness taken upon entering college with income of these students in their 30's and found that cheerfulness was positively correlated with income. The most cheerful students earned on average US$25,000 more than the least cheerful group. In a second study, Straw and colleagues found that happier people are more likely to receive greater pay rises over time. So I am arguing that rather than seeking money to give you happiness, why don't you seek happiness more directly and it may make you more money anyway.
Alison Price is an internationally published author, lecturer, media psychologist and a motivational keynote speaker. Alison is passionate about helping both individuals and organisations, and has worked with over 1,500 individuals to motivate them to be the best they can and achieve success.

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