What makes you happy? Part 2: Money and Work

Aaaaaand the next topic up in the Happiness series is money. Specifically, how does money impact your happiness? And since most people make money through these things called "jobs", let's go ahead and cover that topic too.

But first, a pro tip on writing blogs (since this is like my 6th post and all). People love lists. And people love lists of 3 for some super weird OCD reason. So for today's post let's cover everything in threes. Here's how it'll go:

- 3 observations about money and happiness
- 3 warnings(!) about work and happiness
- 3 random things I've been obsessed with lately
- 3 songs I guarantee that you will love

Cool? Let's go. Starting with money.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Ben's gonna write a bunch of words about how money doesn't provide happiness. Got it!




Because money is way more complex than that. But rather than writing a 5,000 word essay on all the intricate nuances of money and happiness, I want to share 3 simple observations that many economists (money nerds) and "applied positive psychologists" (happiness nerds) agree on. And these 3 things have all shaped the way I think about money's impact on my happiness, starting with the admission:

Money does buy happiness...

1. On a global level, happiness is positively correlated to personal income.

Last month, the World Happiness Index released the 2016 list of happiest countries. They measured it through a simple question (also called the Cantril ladder), which asked thousands of citizens from each country -  "Think of a ladder, with your best possible life being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. Rate your current life on that 0 to 10 scale."

At the top you'll see "richer" countries such as Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, etc. (the U.S. ranks 13th this year), and at the bottom are "poorer" countries such as Afghanistan, Togo, Syria and Burundi. 

Not a shocker by any means but a good reminder. While much of our time (and resulting happiness) is tied to solving "first-world problems", a big chunk of the world still spends a lot of time addressing basic survival needs.

It's hard to be happy with a growling stomach.

Side note: There's another study that tacked on one more question to happiness question above. They asked the same people whether they believed their lives had "an important purpose or meaning". The results were surprising, or at least they were to me. Between 95 and 100% (!) of the respondents from the most poverty-stricken countries (Togo, Chad, Sierra Leone, Kyrgyzstan) reported having meaningful lives, while the rates were much lower (~66%) in wealthier, "happier" places such as Spain, France and Japan. 

The hypothesis is that poverty, while limiting people's happiness in the short-term, forces them to seek out support from their community, family, and religion which all becomes more meaningful over the long-term. 

Money buys happiness...up to a certain point

2. Here in the U.S., happiness levels off at a salary of $75,000.

Important to note - there are lots of geographical/demographic caveats to this. Making $75,000 in Waco, TX is way different than making $75,000 in Denver, CO (something Brooke and I chuckle at each time we watch Fixer Upper). But overall the stat is super solid. In fact, the economist who did the research, Dr. Angus Deaton, just won the Nobel Prize for his work.

Now, there are two sides to this $75,000 coin so let's take a look at them both.

For those making under $75,000, the limiting factor to their ongoing happiness is the tenuous nature of their finances. Millions and millions of Americans in this bucket are living "paycheck to paycheck" and have that constant cloud of anxiety hanging over their day-to-day lives. Having a bit more money would provide happiness by the way of added security and comfort. 

It's hard to be consistently happy when you're a car wreck (or layoff or surgery) away from financial ruin. 

For the over $75,000 crowd, it's a bit more perplexing and not something I totally buy into just yet. 

What this study is saying is that whether you make $76,000 or $76,000,000, money's gonna bring you the same amount of happiness. 

Does this sound right to you?

While I personally don't know what it's like to make $76,000,000...Bill Gates does (plus a few more zeros) and he brilliantly backed up this sentiment a few years ago when asked what it was like to have a ton of money:

"I can understand wanting to have millions of dollars...there’s a certain meaningful freedom that comes with that, but once you get much beyond that, I have to tell you, it’s the same hamburger.”

This quote has oddly stuck with me over the years and it's a pretty good mantra if you catch yourself dreaming about becoming filthy rich or wanting to fall into a lot of money.

It's the same hamburger.

Which leads to the next point:

Money buys happiness...and it can also buy misery.

3. People who are more focused on money and material possessions are less happy. 

This finding comes up again and again and again in happiness research no matter what your income level is. The people that have the hardest time letting go of their possessions struggle the most with happiness. The people most focused on the "outward" or extrinsic values (e.g. keeping up with the Joneses) struggle the most with happiness.

This dates all the way back to the great economist Jesus, who pointed this out in an encounter 2,000 years ago with a rich young ruler. When prompted by Jesus to part with his possessions in order to experience a better quality/vitality of life, the ruler "became very sad and went away grieving, because he was very wealthy". Burn!!

Some people have so much money they're beyond the point of happiness and to the point of misery. 

Or they're focused so much on making money, it makes them unhappy with their current state in life.

Which is why, if I had to guess, that people who avidly watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians are less happy as a result

Money's impact on happiness: Medium (or in reality, as much as you let it)
So, what's the net-net here? What do these 3 observations point out? It's all about balance. It's okay (and healthy) to admit that money does offer happiness in the way of security and comfort and lower anxiety. You also have to remember that money only provides so much happiness (probably a much lower level than you think) and when you place too much importance on it, it can actually bring you sadness.

Work and happiness

Which brings us to our other topic of the day - work, work, work, work, work (and congrats, you now have Rihanna stuck your head). For this topic, I want to share some warnings or things to be acutely aware of, because so many of us (me too) have major major blind spots when it comes to building a successful career and how that impacts our happiness.

But before diving into that one, no Ben Bacon blog post would be complete without an embarrassing story or confession, so here it is for this week:

Jerry Maguire is my favorite movie of all-time. There. I said it.

Now, I know there are wayyyyy cooler movies to drop as your favorite (The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, Teen Wolf), but for me this is it. 

Lost in the whole "is it a rom-com or sports movie?" debate (it's a sports movie btw), is the fact that Jerry Maguire successfully tackles some really large, really interesting questions as someone who woke up and realized their career had spun out of control:

How do you find fulfillment through your work? Is it money? Is it meaning? How does family factor in? Did you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?

The movie came out in 1996 when I was a junior at Baylor University and i was just starting to think about building my own career. I couldn't have seen it at a better time. It's had a big impact on me and to this day, whenever I'm flipping through channels and see it on TBS or TNT, I stop everything and watch it to the end.
Which brings us back to work and happiness and 3 warning signs that things are potentially out of whack.

1. Watch out for certain phrases

"Well...at least I make a lot of money" a.k.a. The Golden Handcuffs

"If I can just make it to the next level (Manager, Director, VP, etc.), I'll have it made" a.k.a The Perpetual Ladder-Climber

"I need to work long hours so my family will be comfortable" - a.k.a. The Workaholic

Have you ever said any of these things? I sure have. And phrases like the 3 above are often the canary in the coalmine that danger lies ahead in the form of complacency, stress, marital issues, etc..

For me, it wasn't a phrase so much as a traffic light. I used to have this job that I hated going to each morning. But, me being my positive happy self, wouldn't admit it. "Ahh, it's not so bad. At least I make a lot of money." It finally hit me one morning when I caught myself doing something I never do. On the drive to work there was a traffic light that turned yellow right as I was just about to pass under it. 

I SLAMMED THE BRAKES. On a yellow. That I was mere feet away from going through. 

This was the wake up call I needed to realize I didn't want to go to my job, that I was actually miserable and it was impacting my entire approach to life.

2. Know your bucket

There are really just three types (or buckets) of jobs in the world.

a. The "It's just a job. It pays me money" job.
b. The "It's a stepping stone to where I really want to go" job.
c. The "This is my calling. I can't believe they pay me to do this!" job.

While everyone wants that "calling" job, you can actually find happiness in all three. Take for instance the "it's just a job" bucket. Lots of people are in this bucket. And there can be real beauty and meaning in this - the single parent working two jobs to provide for their child, the college grad who enters a bad job market and needs to wait tables, the jobs that no one else wants but have to get done..or as the Honorable Judge Smails says in this classic Caddyshack quote - "The world needs ditch diggers too."

For those in the "stepping stone" bucket, happiness can be found in savoring the tasks and skills that will arm you for better jobs in the future, even if it means suffering through other menial type tasks in the process.

The key here is to know and embrace your bucket and accept that there are seasons in life where you likely experience all three.

3.  Be mindful of your friends

This one's not a warning per se, but something to be aware of. There's an intriguing paradox involving success and happiness. 

It's believed that if you want to be more successful, then hang out with people who are more successful than you. Why? They will motivate you to work harder and achieve a similar level of success.

It's also believed that if you want to be happier, then hang out with people who are less successful than you. Why? Your status as the top earner/achiever in the group will make you feel better about yourself.

Donald Trump reinforced this sentiment last week when he advised a crowd of college students to "always be around unsuccessful people, because everyone will respect you". Uhhh, great advice for impressionable minds! :)

Whether or not you buy in to this, the point is that many of your feelings about your personal success and happiness can be impacted by your closest social connections. We're always comparing ourselves to those around us and it's yet another potential blind spot in finding contentment with our work.

Work's impact on happiness: High
While work's just a portion of who we are as humans, from a sheer time perspective it's pretty damn significant. We spend more time working than just about anything else. So finding happiness and fulfillment through your work is a HUGE part of your overall happiness factor. Be mindful of all the forces surrounding it. 

Okay, that's enough for this week. See you back here soon with one final installment of the Happiness series. But here's some fun stuff before we go...

3 random things I've been obsessed with lately:

1. Chance the Rapper
A lot of rap fans my age only listen to the old stuff from the 80s and 90s and they're missing out because there's a ton of great rap these days. And to me, Chance is the best (Kanye - too crude, Kendrick - too serious, Drake - too emo). Here's a playlist of some of his best tracks over on Soundcloud. Give it a listen sometime.

2. Weighted vests
With the weather getting warmer, we've been taking the dog for a lot more walks around our super hilly neighborhood. To "kick things up a notch", I've been throwing on a weighted vest for an extra workout. It's awesome, although Brooke gets super embarrassed when I wear it in front of all the neighbors. She thinks it looks like I'm wearing a bulletproof vest to walk our 15 lb dog around suburbia. Sorry honey!

3. Snapchat filters
First of all, for those that don't know yet, Snapchat is now super legit for old people. I use it communicate with my team at work quite a bit. But even better, they have some amazing filters for when you need to entertain the kids or just be silly. 

What I've been listening to:

1. Raleigh Ritchie is an actor on Game of Thrones and does music on the side, but maybe it should be the other way around???

2. Sure Sure is a new hipster band out of LA. You will be 37% cooler just by listening to this song.

3. I mostly listen to rap and indie music, but I'm a sucker for great pop songs. This is an absolute gem by Matt Wertz.