The Financial Happiness Plateau

It’s not enough. I need more. Nothing seems to satisfy. I don’t want it, I just need it.” – Tool

(Photo: Stuck In Customs)

In a previous article I wrote about what I learned from personal experience about money and happiness. The point being that increasing your wealth brings happiness, but only so much as it allows you to remove things that make you unhappy. Once you allow money to remove most of things that make you miserable (the job you hate, piled up bills, fear of going broke, etc.) then you reach a plateau. That point where more money does not make you any happier, at least not by any noticeable amount. What’s interesting is that once people reach that plateau, they usually take one of two paths. The first group realizes that money, the object that they have been placing on the pedestal for all these years, is indeed just “another thing”. These people usually go on to make a great deal more money because they now begin to see the accumulation of money is nothing but a game, a fun game. These people usually become a lot wealthier. Making money becomes more enjoyable than almost anything that money can buy.

The second group of people never learns and keeps looking for the next “happiness fix” which they think money will provide. They spend their lives believing that money will make them happy and now that they have it they can’t fathom that their ideology is wrong. They believe that their lack of happiness is caused by simply not having a faster, larger, shinier objects. They spend money on bigger and better toys, thinking that the next purchase will make them happy. Maybe it will at least make them appear happy to others, since they need the outside world to try to convince themselves. These people believe that happiness is just around the corner at the next Ferrari dealership or a yacht. Unfortunately, they usually never reach happiness or wealth but spend the rest of their lives chasing it.

This idea of pursuing happiness brings me to a fascinating article I read a few weeks ago about Lenny Dykstra. When I was very young I remember watching Lenny Dykstra play for the NY Mets in the 1986 World Series. He was quick, aggressive and fun to watch. After baseball Lenny’s life took a good turn as seen by this short bio.  

Unfortunately, no matter how successful or rich you become, if you continue to believe that your happiness is dependent on having the next great toy it eventually becomes the cancer that overtakes you. I think this is what happened to our friend Lenny. He just needed a bigger house, a bigger plane and bigger cars. Believing that happiness comes from having “things” was his downfall.

“I said, O.K., I know I’ll be happy when I buy my own Gulfstream,” says Dykstra, reflecting on the plane he purchased in 2007. “But I got down to the end of the nose, I looked back and I said, O.K., happy, come on, come on. So it’s not about the Gulfstream. But it is about the Gulfstream. Meaning it just wasn’t as good a Gulfstream as I wanted.”

Quote from Sports Illustrated Article.

That one quote really embodies what happens to millions of people who never learn to stop spending money, thinking that the next thing they buy will make them happy.

If you are poor money will make you happier than you are now. Probably a lot happier, but only so much as it lifts you from your discomfort of being poor, but after that you’re on your own.

So as you pursue and reach your financial goals, keep this in mind. There will be a point where you will have to take one of two paths when you realize that being wealthy is not all that you though it would be. But that realization is a start of something greater, it will be the next phase of your life. Use it wisely and take the path that will make you a lot wealthier and happier.

As for Lenny, our story does not have a happy ending. After being worth millions he got thirty one million dollars in debt and filled for bankruptcy and was later charged with embezzlement and theft. He is broke and serving 3 years in prison. Looking back now how much easier and less painful would his life have been if he simply learned to live a comfortable lifestyle and invested his money wisely? Instead he chased the illusion of bigger and better and thought that luxuries would bring him happiness. In the end he lost wealth and happiness along with his 1986 World Series Ring, which he was forced to sell to pay his creditors.  Money might not always bring happiness but financial stupidity usually always brings unhappiness.

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