By T.K. Coleman
I sometimes joke around with my friends about how I should write a book on how I grew up in a wonderful church community, meditated regularly, took long pensive walks, enjoyed great friendships, fell in love, laughed daily, engaged the brightest minds in rich conversation about the meaning of the universe, and lived a peaceful, prayerful life, but still felt like something was missing deep down inside until…
I got a second job, worked my butt off, and started making money.
It seems fashionable for people to write about the shortcomings of working hard, making money, and pursuing success. Clearly, it’s needed. Many people seem to suffer from too much wealth and success (not my judgment, but theirs) but not enough stuff like recreation, friendship, love, vacation, or spirituality.
Well, I’d like to add a little balance to the discussion by speaking from the other side.
The Good Life Is Multi-Dimensional
I’ve been meditating, taking long walks, hanging out with great friends, connecting with wonderful human beings in various communities, enjoying late night philosophical conversations, gazing at the stars, and participating in music and theater for no less than the first 25 years of my life, and I can firmly say the following: all of those meaningful activities can fall short, too.
All things are limited in their ability to satisfy.
It’s easy to make statements like “money and success aren’t everything,” but it might be worth reminding ourselves that this same observation is true of just about anything worth pursuing.
There are many desirable states which, when considered in isolation, fail to constitute a balanced and fulfilling life.
Here are some examples:
Having a wonderful romantic relationship isn’t everything. You can have the most amazing life partner in the world, but if you don’t have hobbies, goals, creative challenges, and acquaintances outside of your romantic relationship, it will inevitably suffer.
Having mind-blowing “aha” moments isn’t everything. You can have deep and profound insights about all sorts of things, but if you lack discipline and self-control, your life will suffer from unhealthy habits.
Having good hygiene isn’t everything. You can shower three times a day and be the best-groomed person in your social circle. But if you have a terrible attitude, a self-defeating mindset, and poor communication skills, you’ll never incentivize others to cooperate or collaborate with you when you’re trying to achieve other life goals.
I could go on, but I think the point is clear: The good life is multidimensional. There’s always more to consider than one particular passion, possession, or preference.
Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can blissful, mystical, ecstatic, or sentimental experiences. The key to happiness is to not put all your eggs in any happiness basket. Life is a dynamic and creative process, not a single peak moment to achieve.
Diversify Your Sources of Happiness
Happiness, fulfillment, meaning, eudaimonia, or whatever you want to call it, is about cultivating and maintaining the right mix of elements for you rather than romanticizing the presence or absence of one particular experience, condition, or thing.
As Joshua Hook, a professor of positive psychology at the University of North Texas, recently put it, “Just like you diversify your investments, diversify your sources of happiness.”
And while you’re at it, don’t be too hard on money, success, and hard work. These things have contributed to human freedom, physically and psychologically, as much as anything else.
Money is stored energy. It’s a powerful tool that can be used to provide education, healthcare, clothing, shelter, and the time to enjoy all the other great things that make life enriching. If you are depressed from having too much of it, feel free to share it with one of the many people who have the opposite problem.
Whatever you do, however, please don’t do a disservice to humanity’s quest for a flourishing life by despising material resources and the hard work that’s often required to produce them, maintain them, and exchange them.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, but an informed understanding of its true nature and purpose is the beginning of much good. Money isn’t meaningless, and meaning isn’t money-less.