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Money is a resource that we all need to have to live and survive on earth. It’s the commodity that allows us to satisfy our needs; well certainly our basic needs anyway. Our “wants” might be occasionally or partially fulfilled. Our needs and wants continue to grow as we satisfy them which brings them into the ever spiralling paradox of scarcity.

Have you ever wondered why money ever came into existence? Surely it was never intended to cause misery, diversity and classification in the world. But it did. We might work to earn money to support our families and lifestyle. We may not even enjoy our work, but we endure it to survive. That is a sad reality for many individuals.

Often we wonder why people haven’t become happier while the world has become wealthier. Compared to seventy years ago, we have much more technology, better health care, and a higher standard of education, etc. The world now is more advanced than what our grandparents ever knew. However, we have not become happier. In actual fact, according to research conducted, we have become unhappier.

Why is that? Let’s look at some facts:

  1. We aren’t comparing like for like. As our wealth increases so do our standards. We can’t compare today with the 1950s because the world has evolved too much.
  2. It’s human nature to use benchmarks to measure ourselves against. When it comes to wealth and especially the more fluid element of money, we use our friends, family and social networks to compare ourselves against. If our friends are wealthier than us it impacts on our happiness. If it’s the other way around, we feel happier. It’s crazy but the saying “Keeping up with the Jones” rings true in this case.
  3. We adapt to having money and need a certain level to remain happy. Building more wealth gives our happiness level a short-term boost of up to four to six months and then we settle back to our happiness level before the boost. Humans habituate quickly and money is no different.

That’s all good, but when does money make us happy?

Money raises our level of happiness under three circumstances.

  1. When we haven’t met our basic needs and acquiring more money enables us to do so. Researchers say that the annual income per person mark is around $20,000, which equates to approximately R350,000. In South Africa the majority of citizens are on $10,000. So for a developing country like South Africa, money matters.
  2. If we share our money with less fortunate people, our happiness level increases because it provides a positive emotion of giving. It’s a reason why the elite wealthy donate money for charitable work. They recall the positive experience which they savour and store in their memory. Money buys happiness if spent on others.
  3. People spend money to savour a long-term experience (such as a holiday). It usually involves a build-up of planning, anticipating and then experiencing, with the end result of having to share and relive the memory with someone. This process builds our happiness with the emphasis being on the experience.

Money creates synthetic happiness that fades quickly and then we need to buy more to keep having these highs. If we are seeking true happiness, we need to look for enduring versus fleeting happiness and we get that from building strong positive relationships with family, friends and social connections, participating in community projects, being physically and psychologically healthy, and experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones. Seek enduring happiness!

Money is like health; absence breeds misery.

Having it does not guarantee happiness.

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