How to Invest in Your Happiness

Perhaps second only to love, money is probably one of the most popular subjects when it comes to quotable quotes. We love to talk about it, because money makes the world go around. It’s with money that we can aspire to live better lives filled with massive mansions, fast sports cars, and the fanciest new toys and gadgets on the block.

A common turn of phrase that you’ve likely heard before is that “money is the root of all evil.” In the movie Boiler Room, we’re told that “anybody tells you money is the root of all evil doesn’t [expletive] have any. They say money can’t buy happiness? Look at the [expletive] smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby. You want details? Fine. I drive a Ferrari 355 Cabriolet. What’s up? I have a ridiculous house in the South Fork. I have every toy you could possibly imagine. And best of all, kids, I am liquid.”

You know the popular saying that money can’t buy happiness? Actor and comedian Jim Carrey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Some people will tell you that money (and the pursuit of money) is a necessary evil, one that we need to keep a roof over a heads, food on the table, and a big screen TV in the living room for binging on Netflix original programming. A joke that I once heard was that while money itself may not be able to buy you happiness, it can certainly buy you the expansive oceanfront property with unobstructed happiness views.

But I digress.

And all kidding aside, I don’t think anyone reading this blog is taking on any sort of “greater than thou” perspective on the subject of money. We want it and we want all the things it can buy and we shouldn’t feel ashamed for desiring wealth. We just need to think about money in a slightly different kind of way.

The way that money can be used to buy happiness, so to speak, is that it can provide you with the freedom to no longer worry about money. And this can easily be applied on a number of different levels, each of which is unlocked as you accumulate varying levels of wealth and earn varying levels of income. If you’re struggling and living to paycheck to paycheck, you probably should avoid eating out too often, for example. By contrast, if you are reasonably financially secure and have enough of a buffer, you can probably eat out as often as you’d like.

And when you get to the restaurant, you can order the steak if that’s what you want to eat. It’s not about the money, per se, as much as eliminating (or at least minimizing) the impact that money has on your decision making process. If you want the latest iPhone and you know that you can easily afford it, then you won’t give a second thought about ordering it. If you’re still saddled with student loans and credit card debt, that’s probably not the wisest solution.

To this end, there are effectively two very big ways that you can invest in your happiness. First, you want to reduce (or eliminate) the burden of debt. If you know that you owe money, that’s always going to sit in the back of your head and it should have an impact on your decision making process. That’s only responsible. That’s why you should never pay for something on a credit card that you couldn’t have afforded to pay for in cash. We’ll ignore the tangential topic of “smart debt” for the sake of simplicity, at least for now.

As an extension of this, after you’ve eliminated the burden of debt, you should get to the point where you are not only accumulating wealth, but the money should be working for you. Depending on your level of risk tolerance, this could take on all sorts of different forms and it’s probably something you should discuss with your financial advisor (or similar professional). When you invest in your child’s college fund or your retirement fund, you are providing a greater sense of financial stability and financial independence, because you won’t have to worry about paying for little Timmy’s education or funding your later years (if you ever retire at all).

The second way to invest in your happiness is to invest in yourself. If you feel like you are progressing and growing as a person, you’re going to be happier. These could be professional development programs, personal coaching programmings, fitness courses, or any number of other possibilities. This is going to vary considerably from individual to individual. Learning and exploring your interests and hobbies, professional or not, helps to bolster your internal sense of self-worth and how much you value yourself.

This is very different from the fleeting joy you may experience when you buy “things.” It’s certainly exciting when you get your hands on the newest iPhone, for example, but that sense of joy fades quickly as it just becomes another part of your day-to-day life. But investing in yourself is something that pays dividends for years to come. And investing in your financial independence and security is something that can alleviate you from worrying about money, which in turn leads to more sustained happiness too.

Money can buy happiness. You just have to know how to spend it.

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