Looking for happiness through financial success? Wondering what the magic number is? It's $40,000 according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Really. So technically, most of you should be happy. And if you're working for the next big raise, forget it. You're better off working on teaching yourself how to look at your money with a different eye.
I remember when I passed the $100K mark. My boss loved my work and gave me a raise that put me at $125,000. But a competitor offered me $140,000 and my boss told me he wouldn't match it. At that point, I had no kids, no mortgage and no car payments, so I didn't need the money. But I recognized salary as a gauge of prominence in my field, and although I was making $125,000 I felt under appreciated.
Eventually, I left that job for one that paid more than $200,000 a year, and I lived the aphorism that you have to spend money to make money. I couldn't take high-end clients out to dinner in my refurbished wreck of a car, so I leased a BMW. Dressing as well as my clients cost an arm and a leg. And I hired an assistant to manage my personal life since my new position left no time for that.
You might scoff at my choices, but I was not unique among those whose salaries hit six figures: My expenses rose with my salary, and my desires expanded with my bank account. You might think, “That won't happen to me,” but how foolish you would be to assume you would be the exception to the rule.
In fact, the rule is well established in research: The first 40 thousand makes a big difference in one's level of happiness. Happiness is dependent on being able to meet basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. After meeting those needs you need to turn to something other than consumerism. Because additional money has negligible impact on how happy you are. Your level of happiness is largely dependent on your outlook.
Maybe you're thinking there's another magic threshold beyond forty thousand. Like maybe 40 million. But you're wrong. When I ran in circles of venture capitalists, there was a common phrase, “It's not jet money.” Which was a way of saying, it was a good deal, but it won't earn enough money to pay for a private jet. No matter what size the pile of money is, there's always a way to see it as small.
So for those of you looking for more happiness, realize that a new job or a new home won't be nearly as rewarding as a new outlook. Optimism makes people happy. Raising your standing on the optimism scale will impact your happiness more than raising your worth on the pay scale.
Here's a ten-second test to figure out how optimistic you are:
Think of something really bad that has happened to you. Do you think:
1. It has made me a better person.
2. I made some mistakes, but bad things happen to everyone sometimes.
3. Nothing ever goes right for me.
Think of something really good that happened to you. Do you think:
1. I am good at creating my own success.
2. I got lucky.
3. In the end it didn't turn out to be that great a thing.
If you chose the first answer both times, then you probably already feel pretty happy regardless of your income. If you didn't answer one both times, then a shift in the way you think could dramatically improve your happiness.
The good news is that you can train yourself to think positively. Watch how happy people behave. The cliche about gaining strength through adversity might annoy you, but happy people live by those words.
If you took the test above and picked the third answer both times, you probably blame your life on external things so that you don’t have to take responsibility for your plight. Happy people take responsibility for their success and consider failure a temporary fluke. To change your thinking, start assuming responsibility for your emotions.
If you chose the number two answers, you probably tell yourself, “I’m not happy but I don’t know why.” Start believing that if you take action, good things will happen. Tell yourself good things happen because you expect good things and bad things happen to make you stronger.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Forget it. I don’t believe any of this works. And I can’t do it anyway.” But that’s part of your problem, isn’t it?