Financial Independence and The Pursuit of Happiness

“An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.”– Charles Edwards

As we head into this long holiday weekend, we wanted to leave you with a Fourth of July contemplation about financial independence and one of the inalienable rights, according to The Declaration of Independence: the pursuit of happiness.

Happiness is something assumed by our forefathers to be worthy of pursuit, indeed, by all men and women. Merriam-Webster defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment: joy.”

But there is another, more “obsolete” definition offered: that of “good fortune: prosperity.” For our founding fathers, the pursuit of happiness was not simply an emotional state, but the ability to seek one’s own financial independence and prosperity.

Today, money and happiness are still assumed to be closely linked. Yet are they? From lotteries to promotions to investments, we are constantly in pursuit of more money. And like the chicken and the egg, we’re not sure which came first—a lifestyle that requires ever-escalating financial means, or the money to fund the laptops, smartphones, and tropical cruises we didn’t even know we needed a few decades ago.

In 1957, American’s per person income was $8700, expressed in today’s dollars. Fifty years later, it is $20,000. We have twice as many cars and eat out 150% more often. “Luxuries” such as dishwashers, clothes dryers, and cars with air conditioning are now considered the norm.

So, we have more economic power, and more “stuff.” Are we happier? David G. Myers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Who is Happy, and Why, asserts that we are not.

Since 1957, the number of Americans who say they are “very happy” has declined from 35 to 32 percent. Meanwhile, the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has nearly tripled, the violent crime rate has nearly quadrupled (even after the recent decline), and more people than ever (especially teens and young adults) are depressed.

Myers calls this soaring wealth and shrinking spirit “the American paradox.”

More than ever, we have big houses and broken homes; high incomes and low morale; secured rights and diminished civility. We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.

Life is in the living, not in the buying. So how did we get here? As we examine why our 21st century lifestyles have failed to escalate our joy along with our materialism, we cannot underestimate the effect of being bombarded with never-ending advertising.

The average American encounters between 3500 and 5,000 daily marketing messages, a number that has essentially tripled since the 1970s. We’re suffering from “Affluenza,” a never-ending escalation of lifestyle, the need for more money, and an advertising machine whose sole purpose is to make us dissatisfied enough to keep buying more than what we have.

Despite our race for “more,” researchers have found that the link between more money and greater levels of happiness is weak, only raising happiness significantly in low-income brackets where people struggle to make basic ends meet. Even Forbes’ 100 wealthiest Americans were surveyed to be only slightly happier than the average American. As Maslow’s hierarchy explains, once we have our basic needs covered (food, clothing, shelter, safety), our attention turns toward things like connection, acceptance, love, self-esteem, and personal growth.

“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase ‘to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.’”Steven R. Covey

If we are yearning for greater levels of happiness and fulfillment, neither money nor “things” will suffice. What then will? The solution is to listen… listen carefully to your soul, you’ll hear what it’s calling for. Are you yearning, craving for…

  • Another pair of shoes?
  • Happy hour drinks and appetizers?
  • The latest electronic gadget?
  • A nicer, newer car?
  • A bigger house?

In the marketing din, our lists of all the things we desire but don’t have grow so long that we forget to listen to that voice within for clues of the things we really want.

When we close the catalogs and tune into our interior world, sometimes we discover that what we really wanted wasn’t on our shopping list after all. What we really wanted was…

  • A day without our cell phone. (You know, they have “off” buttons. I dare you!)
  • A long walk in the woods or on a beach.
  • The smile of a long-lost friend we’ve been “meaning” to see.
  • The joy of dusting off our old paintbrushes, music instruments, or roller skates to see if we’ve “still got it.”
  • Quality time with the family we so often rush past.

Managing our assets wisely gives us more money, and with that, more options and choices. And as many financially independent people will attest, bypassing the need to have “newer-bigger-better” enables us to save more and accelerate our wealth. But there is no requirement for us to live any particular lifestyle to keep up with the hypothetical Joneses.

Financial independence gives us nothing more than choices, options. Money can be used to dig a well in Africa or purchase a private jet. And as research in The Millionaire Next Door suggests, the real value of financial independence isn’t in consumerism, but in the freedom to do the things that the self-made wealthy love to do the most—spend time with friends and loved ones, attend their children’s and grandchildren’s sporting events, and take pictures of the people and experiences that are important to them.

We at Prosperity Thinkers, LLC wish you a Happy, Fulfilled Fourth of July Holiday. Relish the time with your family. Treasure your loved ones. Choose wisely how you spend the minutes of each day, because your life is comprised of such moments.

We always welcome your questions and comments. Please let us know what’s on your mind!

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