We are all familiar with the saying “money can’t buy happiness” and because it has been repetitively drilled into our heads for so long, it is something with which we largely agree. From a literal standpoint, I know that I can’t run down to the “Happy” store for their latest buy one get one free sale, but, at the same time, I can also appreciate the levels of joy I’d experience if one of my loyal readers were to cut me a check for a cool million.
I know also that many lottery winners end up miserable and bankrupt – a fact that wholly escapes me – and that the Bible warns us that the ‘love of money is the root of all evil’, 1 Timothy 6:10.
And so there seems to be a sort of spectrum that money affords. It can deliver either joy or misery and ironically, it is actually agnostic as to the outcome. We are the ones who actually tip the scales in or out of our favor.
Therefore, I believe that money affords us nothing but more – and more complex – options. It is how we exercise these options that determines or at least significantly impacts our happiness. As an extreme example, with limitless wealth I could elect lengthy beach vacations or heroine binges in cheap motels. The money would drive the availability of the alternatives, but my decisions deliver my relative satisfactions.
Consider a minor episode I observed recently – an episode which helped influence today’s edition.
As a college football fan, I sometimes troll team pages and message boards for news and updates and entertainment. Consider it a guilty pleasure of sorts.
Just the other day I read some guy boasting of meeting a wealthy alum from a rival program who had purchased tickets for a significant bowl game months prior under the assumption that his team would be playing in the game. The wealthy alum’s team did not make the big game and in this forum he was roundly criticized for being arrogant in assuming victory and in “counting his chickens before they hatched”.
The group-think demonstrated in this discussion struck me at once as funny and misguided. The rich alum was, well, rich. The fact that he weighed the prospects of his team relative to the goal and made an informed purchase early and from his abundance is a perfect illustration of his exercising an option. The cost of the tickets to him was inconsequential but being able to attend the game would have provided happiness. Now he simply resells the tickets for a profit while lamenting his team’s misfortune. That he was ridiculed says more about his detractors that it does about him.
And though that was merely an aside, it perfectly frames my intentions. I started today talking about limitless wealth or lottery winning amounts of money and while that gets the attention, it is an unrealistic aspiration for most of us.
Simply reducing and eliminating the amount of debt we carry along with us each month can go a long ways towards enhancing the options we have before us. Building an emergency fund and having cash reserves allows doors to be opened that we may never have encountered. Speaking from my own experience, when confronted nearly a year ago with a buyout opportunity I did not recoil in fear knowing that layoffs were looming. Instead I stepped forth in faith and confidence knowing that my finances were in order enough to allow this development to serve as a blessing rather than a curse. It afforded me the option of embracing rather than rejecting.
It was an option that did – and continues to – impact my life as I enjoyed time away from the workplace, started this writing experiment, and landed a great job requiring significantly less travel but with a better salary and benefit structure.
But don’t be discouraged if your current situation is not ripe with options for I’ve found that nearly all of the really large decisions in life are the result of many small decisions along the way. Marrying my wife started with my having the nerve to say hello to a pretty girl at a party. Earning a decent salary started with my showing up to work the first day looking for ways to contribute and then doing it again every day for 10+ years. Enhancing my financial security started with paying off and closing a single credit line. The small steps add up.
The point is that if you string together enough small good decisions, before you know it you’ll have many great options present themselves to you… and that makes me happy.
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