What happens to us when we pursue success with energy and arduous effort? Most find the benefits of success, typically including financial stability and all the material components that come with it. We can also experience the benefits psychologically of feeling more secure and having the flexibility to travel and explore the world.
In working with a wide range of clients I find that, as the research confirms, financial independence does not bring much in the way of happiness. Without a doubt, having financial resources typically brings an easier and better life, compared to being in poverty. No argument there.
However, research confirms that once we rise above the level of removing daily fears over meeting basic needs (I.e., rent, food, and medical care), and we have a relative degree of security, then additional money in the bank does little to enhance happiness or life satisfaction. On a national level, this figure translates to about 75,000 per year in income.
In our culture, however, it is the pursuit of financial success that is often applauded and recognized as the gold standard of a good life. Yet, the data overwhelmingly suggests more is needed if we want to be truly happy and satisfied with life.
Personal Greed: The Ticket to Misery
When we pursue economic success for strictly personal needs, the results run thin. We become greedy, obsessive over the loss, and make all decisions around our own personal security. In essence, we can’t think beyond our own personal world.
Greed, and perhaps at times, the wrappings of success can lead to a self-centered lifestyle. Interestingly, studies show that high-status cars will yield for pedestrians about 50% of the time while ‘low-status cars will yield almost 100% of the time for pedestrians. Also, somewhat odd, those with $70,000 in income are 30% more likely to shoplift compared to those only making $20,000 a year.
Studies also suggest economic success yields less empathy, less compassion, and more judgment of others. This may explain why those with very low incomes donate a much larger proportion of their income to others than those of middle or upper income.
Does this apply to everyone in these categories? Of course not. Is success or money the cause? Again, of course not. However, the motivation behind one’s actions is remarkably important.
Motivation Matters: Why Contribution and Growth Rule Supreme!
Let’s assume that we are all working hard and moving forward in life. What can we do to enhance the sense of happiness and satisfaction in our homes, and teach this to those we love? There are at least two significant life strategies that help us attain deep levels of satisfaction.
Growth and Personal Development: If we look at the number of educational books and programs that most people explore past the age of 21, we see a dramatic decline after our formal education. Our learning often becomes more and more stagnant with time. We often abandon our own personal growth and development. This is unfortunate because studies suggest that a commitment to personal growth and learning is a key component to life satisfaction.
It seems that we are simply wired to feel better when we are growing and learning. Search inside, and explore what tugs at you. What are you motivated to learn, and where do you want to grow?
And in our world today, it is absurdly easy to tackle learning of any subject, language, or skill…since it is all online and mostly free. Want to get instruction on playing the guitar? Want to learn to speak French? Want to start writing code for your own software program? Yep…it’s all there and anything you can imagine.
Contribution: When we step beyond our own personal needs and commit to helping others, it seems that magically unfolds. Whether we give our time, our support, or our monies, the act of contributing (without expectation of returns) plays a key role in fulfillment and satisfaction. Again, search inside for your own motivation to give or to make a difference.
The value of building contribution into our life habits is remarkably robust if we seek a life of contentment and happiness. It’s just that we can get consumed with the day-to-day demands of life, and too charity and contribution gets neglected. The same if often true for personal growth and learning.
Thus, if we want to enhance our lives in significant ways, two simple steps are necessary to build into our lives. Make a resolve to growing and giving.
Grow habitually. Give habitually. Each doesn’t need to be grand, and yet it could be. It’s your choice.