An old post from the Wall Street Journal has resurfaced and infected my social media community this week: it’s called “What Salary Buys Happiness in Your City?” – and it’s a load of crock.
The piece is accompanied by a chart listing all the major metropolitan areas in the United States, with a column called “Happiness Threshold” that claims to define the amount of money you need to make in order to achieve satisfaction in your life. I scanned through the numbers, and saw that my old city of residence, Tallahassee, required me to make $75,000 in order to be happy. Last I checked, I only made about $18,000 the last year I lived there – and I was happy as a clam (with the obvious exception of a lack of nearby climbing).
It infuriates me to see my peers devouring this notion that a salary buys happiness. There is no denying that money enables us to invest in the tools required to facilitate happiness, but it is impossible to quantify one’s ability to achieve personal satisfaction based solely upon their salary.
Perhaps what this article really identifies is a much larger societal issue: are Americans judging their happiness based upon the ability to acquire material objects, superficial status symbols, and frivolous things that bear no marker for true happiness? Do I need to make $75,000 so I can have things that give me the appearance of achieving maximum happiness – even if my true levels of happiness may be subpar? Is this Wall Street Journal article (and society at large) confusing the satisfaction of affording luxuries with the true feeling of happiness?
In 2013, I have made about $300 total – and that’s probably exaggerating it a bit. Even with all of my savings, my bank accounts peaked out at less than $10,000 this year – and I have never been happier in my life.
One of the happiest people I have ever met is a climber I met in Joe’s Valley. His spirit is so infectious that I’ve since climbed and camped with him in Indian Creek and Squamish. Jeremy’s life plan is simple: He works hard for a few months each year to afford a lifestyle that grants him experiences most people engage in for a weekend or two. His life is what most folks dream of while they slave away in a cubicle. He travels where he pleases, climbs whatever moves him to action, and shamelessly indulges in the finer things in life – like a luxurious box of 40 Tim-Bits. He understands that no salary can equate to happiness.
Happiness is a state of being you create for yourself – it isn’t an emotion accompanied by a price tag.
You don’t buy happiness; you make it.
When is the last time you were sublime in happiness, created by an experience that wasn’t attached to monetary costs? What is the last joy that you didn’t buy?
Money is an undeniable necessity in this culture – it was vital in acquiring the van I live in – but I think that rather than succumbing to the call of sacrificing your life for a paycheck, we ought to start thinking more about balance. We aren’t all cut out for the vagabonding lifestyle that Jeremy enjoys, but consideration needs to be made for whether your life’s scales are weighted too heavily towards making money to fill a void where happiness should naturally occur. Would cutting back on superficial material indulgences allow you to spend less time working and more time living? Would a smaller salary actually lead to an increase in happiness?
Your salary is not a measure of your happiness, and it certainly can’t buy you satisfaction to replace those moments you should be experiencing instead of sitting in an office. Then again, I can’t deny how badly I wish I had enough money to buy myself a big old wooden desk with a leather chair to sit and write at – but still, it wouldn’t take $75,000 to afford the things I “need” to be happy, not even close.