How Can I Be Happy Without Being Rich?

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Reader’s Question

I have been depressed for a while because I used to be very rich but have lost most of my money, and now I don’t seem to be motivated to do anything. I have been like this for two years. I do not do much other than work, in order to recover from the financial crash. But I also analyze everything, and I find meaninglessness more often than not. I have lost contact with my friends and have become a much colder person.

My question is, will time cure this hurt and make me happy again? I want to be happy — and not only with money.

Psychologist’s Reply

A lot of people have fallen into the trap of believing money to be the path to success and happiness, but there are a number of problems with this approach. For one thing, it’s simply not true. If all anyone had to do to be happy was have a lot of money, then rich people would be exceedingly happy and poor people never would be. Neither is true. For example, one of the dark sides of the lottery that no one talks about is that lottery winners often end up very unhappy and wishing they’d never hit the jackpot. Instead of making their lives easier, the money brought a lot of pain and misery. The reason why the old cliché states that money cannot buy happiness is because it can’t.

We’ve all been told that money is what we need to be successful and happy and many people have bought into this idea. According to conventional wisdom, you had everything you were supposed to have in order to be happy, but then lost it all. Your depression and subsequent isolation suggest that you may have got caught in this trap; that you may believe that if you do not reach the top of that financial mountain again, you will never be happy and successful. However, there is another perspective you could take, one that gives you an opportunity for personal growth and a richer, more satisfying life. Victor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Thus, in order to be happy, changing yourself and the way you think about success and happiness may be the way to go.

The basic definition of success is the accomplishment of an aim or a goal. It sounds like attaining money was once your goal but it may be time for a new one. Happiness is a great aim to have but it is too vague for a goal. I always recommend that people set goals that are specific and reachable. That makes for less frustration and a greater chance of success. Consequently, if you break happiness down to its basic components, you can set goals for those. I believe that true happiness comes from having positive and fulfilling interactions with others, finding meaning in what you do, and experiencing the little joys that occur daily. Why not start there?

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If you have a goal of reconnecting with family and friends, chances are that you will start feeling better about yourself and others. Social interaction provides great opportunities for experiencing a range of emotions like compassion for someone else, passion in the exchange of ideas, and joy with the moments of intimate connection. Another goal could be to find purpose in your work and behavior. Discover what is meaningful to you and do more of that. If nothing strikes you as meaningful right now, keep exploring until you find something that does. Join groups, take a spiritual journey, get involved in a political campaign, take up a cause, and do volunteer work. Something will eventually seem purposeful.

Finally, the effort to attain happiness may involve paying attention to the little moments of goodness. Again, I hate to use a cliché, but stop and smell the roses. You may recall the pleasure of using your senses to feel and enjoy things like the wind in your face, the sun on your arms, hot or cold water, the stretching of your muscles and the taste of good food. Appreciate laughter, the silliness of children and animals, the beauty of nature and the many other wonderful things that come with being alive. Even if the moment of joy is five seconds long, stop and appreciate it with mindfulness. After a while, you may find that those five seconds add up. And always keep in mind that money isn’t what made those moments special. I don’t care how rich you are, no one can buy a sunset, a thunderstorm or the company of good friends.

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