Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's true! Money does not equal happiness

I was really curious to see what this whole having-extra-money-to-spare thing was going to do to me. After several months of collecting more income than a single girl needs, I have come to the same conclusion that I have held all along: money doesn't necessarily equal happiness.

Maybe I should rephrase that: instant gratification does not equal genuine happiness.

I grew up in a home without a lot of money. Despite growing up in a well-to-do neighborhood, we never had all the fancy toys that the neighbor kids had. What I considered a luxury my peers considered a necessity.

And I'm not going to say it wasn't hard--because it was. I had my days when I wished we would buy real-brand foods and that we could keep up with my constantly elongating body that required a new wardrobe every few years. I wanted to have what everyone else had, but that wasn't possible. Money would have solved a lot of problems for my entire family.

When I first started working soon after I turned 16, I loved earning money from a source outside of my parents. Most of the money I made went to car or school expenses--I had very little left over for personal toys. That's the way it was all through high school and on through college. I always had just enough to pay the bare minimum, enough to keep my head above the water.

All that changed a few months ago when I suddenly found myself with a steady income and no tuition costs hanging over my head (minus that annoying student loan I resorted to in order to preserve my sanity during my senior year). I had more money than I knew what to do with, and I'll admit--I went a little crazy.

I bought an amazing queen-sized bed (suddenly, my quality of sleep has gotten a lot better), I extensively updated my wardrobe, I moved into an apartment that isn't made out of cardboard, I bought a few toys I definitely don't need, and I've been a lot more loose about spending money on food and personal supplies.

And you know what? Despite having the funds to buy everything I could have dreamed of as a college student (you know, like enough clothes to go a month without doing laundry, and a steak every now and then), there is always something else to buy. Always something else that I want that I don't have. And with the funds to buy them, it's really hard to control myself. There's human nature for you.

I am not saying that money is evil--not even close. Being able to handle all of my expenses is a huge burden off my shoulders. In fact, sometimes I still feel like I'll float away because I don't quite know how to function without that burden.

But having to do without taught me creativity. The most fun I ever had Christmas shopping was the year I bought 8 presents for under $45, or the years my mom helped me make a present for one of my siblings. I made great friends during my years in BYU's ghetto apartments and we found ways to entertain ourselves with no money whatsoever, whether it was a snowball fight in the parking lot or rearranging the furniture in a non-constructive way. As a kid, I spent hours pretending and making up games outside--racing down the hill by my house on the wagon with the twisted wheel, discovering new worlds in the mountains behind the park, and making cool stuff out of yarn, cardboard, and scraps of material. In fact, most of the time the money thing wasn't even an issue. My basic needs were being met and I had my family and the gospel. That was all I needed.

I wish everyone had the opportunity to really work for what they have and to learn to do without. Those two things have defined my personality in many ways, and has helped me refine the art of finding joy in the journey.

Since I got my first post-college job, I haven't noticed a huge increase in happiness. Yes, things are pretty awesome because I am finally living a life I have prepared for for a lot of years, but it's not like there was a magic formula hidden in my salary that automatically produced happiness.

So, I am happy to say that my old methods of happiness still stand: gospel, family, work, gratitude, creativity. I knew I was right.

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