If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, What Does?

October 15, 2023

If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, What Does?

May 29, 2023

No matter where we are on the wealth continuum, money plays a huge role in our lives – as a means to an end or as an end in itself. We know that money doesn’t buy happiness – or do we? We live in a culture dominated by making and spending money, and it is difficult to escape the feeling that we always need more – that buying that dress or taking that trip is what we need to feel good. And often it does – for a while. But soon the pursuit of more distracts us from feeling satisfied with what we already have.

Our consumer culture derives from and promotes a mindset of scarcity -- an unconscious, unexamined belief system that we all swim in but can rarely recognize, so pervasive is its grasp on our collective consciousness. We instinctively feel that the world is a place where there is just not enough to go around—that someone somewhere is always going to be left out, that more of anything and everything is better, and that’s just the way it is.

I am not saying that scarcity does not exist. In too many places in the world (including the United States) there is not enough food, or clean water, or health care. I am not talking about people who are truly oppressed and marginalized, lacking the basics. I am speaking to a disease of the rest of us, the comfortable and relatively affluent, who fail to recognize that we actually have adequate resources for our lives and yet are driven by the desire for more. 

How do we escape this mindset and find peace and freedom with money? How do we come into right relationship with how we use our financial resources – for ourselves and for others? The word wealth actually derives from the root wel as in well-being -- ‘in a state of good fortune, welfare, or happiness.’ So, what creates true wealth?

A recent gold-standard longitudinal (85 years) study out of Harvard has shown that once people achieve a certain standard of living and their needs are met, more money does not buy more happiness. In fact, it may mean less satisfaction with life. The Harvard study clearly indicates that rather than money, or fame, or achievement, what keeps people happy throughout their lives are close relationships. People who are contentedly married and/or centered in caring communities live longer, healthier, and happier lives. And healthy relationships are based on collaboration, caring, and sharing. When people feel connected to others, they naturally want to share.

I say that generosity is at the heart of happiness, and generosity derives from a sense of sufficiency – which means you are whole and complete just as you are. Our scarcity-based consumer culture has most of us living in an experience of deficit—feeling that there’s something wrong with us and we need to acquire what we are lacking. In our obsessive pursuit of more, we race right past enough without even knowing what happened. As Gandhi said, “There is enough for our need, but not for our greed.” 

Sufficiency is not an amount of anything. It’s not halfway between more than you need and less than you need. It’s an experience of being met by the universe with exactly what you need and being grateful – experiencing what my teacher Brother David Steindl-Rast calls “the “great fullness of life.”

Gratitude and generosity go hand in hand. “When the bowl of life begins to overflow,” Brother David says, “all you want to do is give, serve, and share.” I have seen this kind of generosity throughout my decades as a fundraiser— from people at all levels of financial resources. The experience of sufficiency and fulfillment becomes accessible when they share – when they choose to make a difference with their money. 

Generosity is generative – it generates more aliveness, whereas holding on, hoarding, stops the flow. Brother David offers a beautiful image of the open hand: it is the posture that gives and also the posture that receives. It’s when the fingers start to curl and grasp and hold on that begins the formation of the fist – the source of conflict and violence. 

Generosity is also circular – just like our breath. We breathe in and out in equal measure. You can’t take a deep breath in and hold it and never breathe out. So it is with money. Like water, money nourishes when it flows. Imagine a world where the beating heart of humanity circulated money easily and freely!

When people are grateful for what they already have, and when they use their resources to express their highest ideals and deepest values, their experience of their own wealth expands. This is what I call the principle of sufficiency: what you appreciate appreciates. True wealth and deep happiness come not from accumulating what we think we want, but from knowing that we are blessed with what we truly need.

Join me in Baja for an intimate in-person 5-day workshop “The Soul of Money,” perfectly timed right after Thanksgiving this year, November 27-December 2. It might change your life and will likely change your relationship with money.

Lynne Twist is a global visionary and activist who co-founded the Pachamama Alliance and founded the Soul of Money Institute. She is the author of the best-selling book, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life and the recent Living a Committed Life: Finding Freedom and Fulfillment in a Purpose Larger Than Yourself. She will be conducting a Mastery Week on The Soul of Money, November 27 – December 2 in Baja.

-Lynne

Lynne Twist is a global visionary and activist who co-founded the Pachamama Alliance and founded the Soul of Money Institute. She is the author of the best-selling book, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life and the recent Living a Committed Life: Finding Freedom and Fulfillment in a Purpose Larger Than Yourself. She will be conducting a Mastery Week on The Soul of Money, November 27 – December 2 in Baja.

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