The post that considers the age old question of whether you need money to be happy.
Does money bring happiness? That’s not exactly the question posed by Saving Ninja’s latest Thought Experiment, but it certainly invites the question.
Here’s what Saving Ninja asks:
Most people’s lives are filled with so much commotion. We’re constantly moving and thinking like an electron jumping from atom to atom. There are very few moments when we experience true clarity, when we have a chance to really think clearly. These moments may come when reaching a mountain peak in the early hours of the morning or when you’re sitting up late one night and silently staring at the stars. Lots of life-changing decisions can be made in these moments; when you have the time to think about true happiness.
So, for this Thought Experiment, I’d like you to create one of these moments for yourself. I’d like you to think, and I mean really think about what you want and need to make yourself and your family happy.
What do you need to achieve real, true happiness? What are you aspiring to? Paint that perfect picture, you will need it as a guide whilst you make your way through life.
Remembering past happiness
This Thought Experiment is timely. I recently returned to my university city for the first time since graduating over 10 years ago. I wandered around campus feeling weird, nostalgic and a little sad.
The final year of university was a time when I was really happy. When I was going around my old haunts I remembered those times fondly but was also a bit down that those times are gone.
The other time in my life I was happiest was when I was re-training as a solicitor. Not when I was actually working in the office, but when I was studying at college.
The need for autonomy
I have been trying to think what it was about these times that made me happy. What is the common denominator? One obvious thing is that I was a student, but I don’t think that’s it. After all, I don’t look back on my school years as fondly.
I think what it amounts to is the autonomy. Yes I had scheduled lectures and seminars, but I probably could have gotten away with not turning up if I simply didn’t want to. I was a goody two shoes so I always did show up, but it was optional. And there was a tonne of free time to do what I wanted. I loved the complete lack of routine.
What is definitely not happiness is waking up every day to do the same commute. No choice as to going into the office or the work I do.
Even when I’m enjoying the work I still feel constricted because I have to be doing it.
So you don’t need money to be happy?
When I was a student I had hardly any money. This would seem to suggest that you don’t need money to be happy. But what I did have was an income (miniscule as it was) from my student loan/grant that didn’t depend on me doing much of anything.
Being a student probably wouldn’t bring me happiness anymore. Living on a small grant would mean I couldn’t afford my mortgage or living alone (which is one of my major joys in life). I’d have to go back to shared living and that drove me to the brink of insanity before.
The only route is financial independence
So how do I recapture the carefree happiness of being a student without actually being a student? The only way I can see it happening is when I am finally financially independent. This Thought Experiment has reaffirmed that this is absolutely the right thing for me to strive for.
FI would take the knot out of my stomach that I get from having to be somewhere day in day out with no control over it.
The money does not bring happiness per se, but it would remove the principal thing that makes me unhappy. So I would say that “yes”, you probably do need money to be happy. That is very different from saying you need to be rich to be happy.
So what is true happiness to me?
There are lots of things that I need to be happy. It’s not just about the autonomy or the lack of a schedule. I need my family and friends around me. Nice weather and beautiful scenery certain adds to the joy. I love peace and quiet (something I certainly struggle to find in London!).
But really the happiest moments I can envisage are waking up and thinking, “I can do whatever I want today.”
Check out Saving Ninja’s own response and a running list of what other bloggers said.