Spoiler Alert: Your Salary Won't Buy Your Happiness
Biggie told us, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” I’m willing to debate it since I wouldn’t personally know; most of my stress is from lack of money. I’d be willing to bet most people who throw that phrase around have never had to choose between groceries and gas, or counted out change to pay a light bill. They’ve probably never worried themselves to sleep wondering how to pay the mortgage and daycare in the same week. I more relate more to Wu Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.”—cash rules everything around me.
I’d always thought I’d graduate college and land an amazing career making a hefty salary. Turns out, that was a bit of a fantasy. Sadly, in the world of entry-level experience and nonprofits, the cash is a little more difficult to come by. I really love my job, though. I’m excited to go to work, there’s room to grow and it’s a place I can make a difference. Aside from the paycheck, I feel fulfilled.
I’m a bit of a materialistic person. I don’t think I’m shallow, but I like new stuff. I want nice things. And I know I’m not alone. For many of my peers (and myself) there seems to be an ever-present competition to outshine one another. Pictures of new cars, huge houses and incredible vacations are splashed across Instagram accounts. The photos say, I’m successful, I’m wealthy, I’m living my best life (or, my credit is awesome). But, they rarely say, I’m happy.
True happiness is a hard thing to find—and a harder thing to feel. Every time I browse my social media feed, the emotional turmoil begins. There are quite a few feelings: jealousy, frustration, wistfulness. Happiness is not typically one of them. As many times as I remind myself there’s no such thing as a perfect life, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Where did I go wrong that my career hasn’t afforded me a yacht or a Mercedes?
It’s not as simple as saying “money isn’t everything.” Money is a necessity. Even if you’re cool with living sparsely, you have to pay for things like food, transportation and shelter. I won’t tell you money doesn’t matter, or guilt you for coveting a fancy car. I will say happiness encompasses more than wealth and objects. Shopping may lead you to a cute pair of shoes, but it won’t lead to contentment. The problem isn’t buying an item, it’s the value we assign it. Not the monetary value, but that an object equates a person’s worth. A nice house is great, but it doesn’t mean you’re a better person. Diamond jewelry is pretty, but it doesn’t make someone kind. Your possessions aren’t extensions of you; they don’t make you funnier or more talented or worthy of praise. You shouldn’t trade your health or your relationships to afford that jetset lifestyle.
Happiness is a tricky thing. It can’t be measured like your height or age. It can’t be bought, no matter how much we try. And we do try, usually to the point of making ourselves miserable as we scramble to pay our debt. (Are you even an adult if you haven’t swiped your bank card to pay for drinks and prayed your cell phone bill hasn’t cleared yet?)
Happiness is an abstract concept. It’s not just an emotion; it’s a state of mind. Happiness is made up of internal and external factors. There’s a fluidity to it—happiness shifts and changes, not just between people, but in our own minds and throughout our entire lives. And while this dreamy idea of happiness might evolve and grow, happiness itself has a very real impact on us.
When I spend too much time comparing my life with others on social media I start to spiral down a path of misery. Suddenly, I forget about the very important things I’ve worked so long to achieve. I forget about the true friendships I’ve spent years cultivating. My focus strays from the two awesome kids I’m raising to (hopefully) be responsible, caring humans. It’s like the years of blood, sweat and tears—literal and figurative—cease to matter.
I don’t have the key to true happiness. I don’t have any amazing revelations to share. I know. It bothers me too. I do know it isn’t a McMansion or winning the lottery (although, I’m willing to test that theory). I know materialistic items and money aren’t enough. Happiness isn’t a destination, it can’t be found on a map. It’s not a goal to be marked off a list. It can’t be bought or manufactured. We can’t chase it down with a butterfly net. (Dammit.)
Happiness isn’t smiling until your face hurts, or choosing blind optimism. It doesn’t mean you never cry or yell or get anxious. It doesn’t mean the end of your problems. It doesn’t mean you’ll never feel unsatisfied and it won’t prevent you from wanting nice things. Happiness is a conscious decision. It’s a concentrated effort to be grateful for what you have. It means you acknowledge your accomplishments, even if you still want more. It’s not forcing yourself to be happy; it’s understanding you can have a bad day, experience a setback and be OK. Maybe not in the moment, but soon.
Happiness is a continuous process. It will ebb and flow throughout your life. Nobody is happy 24/7—not the celebrities on Instagram, not your neighbors next door, not your high school frenemy. You have to decide what—and who—contribute to your overall happiness. And that’s the hardest part—figuring out what makes you happy. In the end, it’s a completely personal definition. It’s not something to chase after, but something to cultivate in your everyday life. A new car or house is a terrific milestone, but it’s not a measurement of a life of fulfillment.
Heather lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she graduated with a degree in Converged Communication. She currently bartends to pay the bills, while looking for a new career in public relations. An avid sports fan, makeup hoarder, and mom of two, she survives on strong coffee and inappropriate humor. On days off you can find her dragging her kids on an adventure around town, checking out a new bar with friends, or simply wandering the aisles of Target.