Chapter 4 – Why Money Doesn’t Make You Happy
If you’ve nodded your head a few times reading the first three chapters of this book, get ready: I’m going to introduce you to a program which, if you stick to it, will help you to be happy and have money.
First, consider that part of what has been blocking your path to happiness and wealth is a pretty powerful set of perceptions that, if you don’t shake them, will bog you down and make you unhappy. In America, a major underlying perception appears to be that people with a lot of money are happy and fulfilled. The perception of money is “if only.”
If only I had more money, my life would be more fun. If only I had more money, I would be happier. If only we had more money, our relationship would be better.
Education is not necessarily the ticket out of the swamp created by the perceptions I just described. Have you ever been taught at home or at school how to manage money?
So many people hang their hat on financial education as a treatment for consumer credit and debt problems. People also believe that if only they had learned about finances in school they wouldn’t be in a jam today. They believe they are victims of the educational system, victims of their creditors and victims of life. In fact, even if they had been taught, they probably would not be better off financially because what most people are taught is how to be a money technician, not a money steward.
Many people believe that simply because they are aware of where their money goes, that they really understand the impact money has on their life, both good and bad. This is incorrect.
A money technician is someone who does a great job of balancing the checkbook.
They giggle the day they open the mailbox to find last month’s bank statement has arrived. They bound back to the front door and then leap down the stairs to the family room where the computer is located. The electronic brain is powered up with that comfortable hum, and the latest money program is double-clicked on the desktop to
launch Family Money Central. A quick insertion of fresh data into the money tracking software for the family’s money supply and, ta-da, everything is in balance and life is good. Ahh.
People who earn money are not necessarily good money stewards, and they certainly are not necessarily in touch with the motivations behind how they spend their money.
They just know exactly what the account balances are. Over the years I’ve had many clients who were super-organized, good technicians with all of their data, color-coded in binders. Many still experienced money troubles and general financial dysfunction. Some were even true money addicts, addicted to the pursuit of things they believed money would bring them.
Good money stewards are hard to find. They work their money so it yields the most benefit for them. They are conservative with it, and then, sometimes they aren’t. They meet their current obligations, they set aside a little in liquid cash, put some in longer term investments, and have fun with the rest. Their life is not always in balance but it’s like a plate spinning slowly on the tip of a stick, it wobbles a bit back and forth but it never falls off.
Good money stewards have laid the foundation for enjoying life and their money at the same time. You are going to learn those skills in this book.
For the vast majority of people, perceptions rather than reality drive their actions. I mean, does anybody really know what time it is? It is only the time it is right now because we say it is this time. We really don’t know what reality is because reality is only our perception of what we believe to be real.
If you throw 10 people on the same street corner and play out some event in front of them, you will hear 10 different versions of the same event. It’s not that any of them are wrong about what they report. What they tell you is the truth as far as they are aware. But is it the absolute truth? Probably not.
PERCEPTION BECOMES REALITY AND REALITY BECOMES TRUTH
For most people, money alone does not achieve any of the goals we desire besides having the money. Wealth is nothing more than the accumulation of material possessions or things we mutually agree are valuable. They
only have value because we perceive them to be valuable. Take a diamond for example; it’s a rock, for crying out loud. It’s only valuable because we perceive it to be valuable and others have told us it is valuable. In some parts of the world, you can find them lying right on the ground. There is even a state park in Arkansas where you can go and find diamonds lying right on the ground.
While the secret to happiness is always assumed to be wealth, wealth is just an external condition. The key to happiness is developing your character to the point where you achieve internal prosperity — and internal prosperity is free. You don’t need a bunch of money to have it right now, and you have no excuse for not getting up and getting it.
Once you begin your trip down the path of achieving internal prosperity, you will find that the money you make will slowly switch from not being enough, to more than you really need. It’s a magic transformation and it will change your life forever, or at least until you get out of balance and fall down. The good news is that you can get up again.
If you are wealthy without internal prosperity, what you have done is accumulated a lot of stuff that you now have to watch out for, worry about, insure, take care of and manage. A lot of stuff can bring us only fleeting joy and quickly becomes a burden.
Think about it: the more you accumulate, the harder you have to work to maintain it. There is a point where you don’t own your stuff, it owns you.
“Hearses don’t have luggage racks.”
Examine for a moment these common items that give others the perception of wealth:
Perception: They must be doing really well because they just bought a big home in that exclusive neighborhood.
Reality: Just because a lender was willing to risk giving them a huge mortgage does not mean they have a lot of money and it certainly does not mean they are happy. I’ve got some ex-neighbors to prove that. They seemed to have so many issues. On nightly walks, they’d always look down and never make eye contact as they passed folks on the sidewalk. They never mowed their lawn, hid in their house, were mean and grumpy almost all the time and I don’t think I ever saw friends over. If they had friends, I think they were the lawyers they were paying to sue everybody else.
Anyway, the reality of big homes is that what you perceive as success is really just a lot of debt. The new fancy home will get old, need constant upkeep to keep it looking respectable and soon will be in the “old” neighborhood. What begins as a “look where we live” will soon become a hole in the ground into which you pour money. Nice homes require landscaping, cleaning and maintenance. The bigger the house, the more of your income is going to be required to be able to properly maintain it.
Perception: Did you see their new car? They just bought a car that will always be valet-parked right in front of the restaurant so the restaurant can look good! It’s very expensive. They must be doing well.
Reality: First, they may not have purchased it at all. They may have just rented (leased) it. Even if they did buy it, it’s probably owned by the bank and has a big loan on it. You know, they make new models every year and what was hot and sporty this year is next year’s used car, so it will have to be replaced with the latest model. In a year or so they will have to sell, trade in or lease up to maintain the image. That move will cost them a lot of money, and deeper into debt they go.
INTERNAL PROSPERITY IS NOT AN ACCIDENT, WEALTH CAN BE
I recognize that there are plenty of happy rich folks, but what makes them fulfilled is that they are both internally prosperous and externally wealthy. But the majority of people try to start the trip to fulfillment with only half a tank.
I grew up in a fairly wealthy area. Early on, I observed that basically there are three types of people who live there. There are those who have little external wealth, these are usually the folks who lived in the area before it became trendy.
There are those who flaunt what they want you to think they have. These are the folks who look and smell good, but once you get past the front door you see the truth. The homes often have fabulous window treatments or “curtains of wealth,” but they only have enough furniture for a couple of poorly decorated rooms. Sometimes, they even sleep on lawn chairs. I was in one house that has almost all marble floors on the first floor, and the only stuff around is a television sitting on the floor in the living room, a glass table in the dining room and a couple of stools at the counter in the kitchen. I had to almost talk in a whisper because the echo was so bad. I’m serious.
These are the same people who drive their incredibly expensive cars to the supermarket, take your parking spot and cut you off in the food aisles with their cart as they block the frozen food aisle and hiss to themselves, “That’s my frozen quiche.”
One day at the market, I was standing next to a middle-aged woman dripping in furs and gold as she opened all the different types of mayonnaise. She would dip her little finger in, taste it and then put the top back on it and plop it back onto the shelf. She used the same finger for each new jar she cracked open. When she found the one she wanted, she put it in her cart and went on her way. What makes her think that is acceptable? With all her money, she couldn’t buy class. Another time, a guy walked up next to me and was tearing plastic bags off in the produce aisle and throwing them on the fruit displays and on the floor. I watched him for a minute. I didn’t have much choice because, I mean, I was standing right there next to him and could not reach what I wanted because he kept lunging across in front of me to tear off the next bag.
I finally figured out what he was doing. OK, sometimes those bags are a bit tricky to get open, but you’ve got to at least make an effort. He wasn’t even trying to open them. I guess he felt entitled to have the bag magically open for him. I said to him as he walked away, “Excuse me, you are not seriously leaving your trash all over are you?” He gave me an angry stare and then in a huff, picked up the bags and threw them in his cart. As he began to walk away again I said, “Excuse me.” He turned back, maybe hoping I would thank him. “You forgot one.” He did not pick it up. I’m almost positive that he left all the plastic bags in his cart and as he jumped into his Jaguar, pushed the cart into someone else’s car and as the wind whipped the bags into the air, he muttered to himself, “Look at all this trash.”
I’m convinced that these folks act this way because they feel that somehow money makes them more important and entitled to a certain life. They want to be treated with importance because of their illusion of wealth. They do not realize that if they were just internally prosperous people, many people would still be their real friends and treat them with kindness. They are so rich but so bitter and angry, it is sad to watch. Is that really how you want to live your life?
My favorite wealthy folks are the ones who are stinking rich but you’d never know it. This is the family who could be from anywhere and is blessed with incredible good fortune. They are typically kind and unassuming but take awesome vacations. They have arrived in money nirvana: internal prosperity and external wealth. Together. Amen.
Internal prosperity is the cornerstone of happiness, and it is right at hand. It’s virtually free and the tools we need to achieve it are within us or all around us. It’s up to us to gather them together and put them to use.
Prosperity and wealth do not breed constant happiness. If you are constantly or perpetually happy, you are probably on drugs and have broken with reality. The perception that money will bring happiness is a myth, an illusion, a lie. No matter how prosperous or wealthy you are, you will still have periods of unhappiness. In order to perceive that you have and will lead a happy life, you have to believe that you have had and will have more happy moments than sad moments.
- I’m entitled…
- I deserve…
- Life owes me…
- I’ve earned it so it’s mine.
- I’m more important than you because I have money.
- I’m happier than you because I am wealthy.
- You never know when you will die.
- You never know when you will be in pain.
- You never know…
- Life has no guarantees.
- Life owes you nothing.
- You are lucky to be alive because the only other option is to be dead.
- Comfort is a luxury.
- Before you can be truly happy with your wealth, you must be internally prosperous. Prosperity is the foundation for a happy and rewarding life. Prosperity is not about dollars. It’s about sense.
- Internal prosperity is an ongoing process. It’s not something that you achieve and then keep for the rest of your life. You have to work on it daily. It wouldn’t be precious if you didn’t have to work to maintain it.
Distill Your Life
It’s not hard to make a still. I made one for a junior high school science fair project. I demonstrated how you could distill regular cooking sherry into a highly concentrated alcohol. It was very popular with the parents. I had a big crowd of adults waiting for samples.
You can do the same thing with your life. Distill the critical components of your life. Picture the three most important things in your life that you can’t live without. If some of your things are material possessions, they all have to fit into a backpack. So what are your three things, and what’s in your backpack? Why?
Chapter 1 – I Got Hit in the Head With a Baseball and I Saw it Coming
Chapter 2 – What Your Money is Trying to Tell You
Chapter 3 – Take a Lap on the Gerbil Wheel of Debt
Chapter 4 – Why Money Doesn’t Make You Happy
Chapter 5 – If You Had a Million Rats, Would You be Successful?
Chapter 6 – The 10 Attributes of Internal Prosperity
Chapter 7 – The Attributes of Internal Prosperity in Action
Chapter 8 – Your Money is Your Friend
Conclusion – Listen to Your Heart