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Monday, September 10, 2012

Does Happiness Lie Within?

Throughout the ages, popular wisdom has told us that money cannot buy happiness. As the below quotes illustrate, happiness has historically been seen as is a quality that lies within us, or as something we can cultivate by proper thoughts, good deeds, and commitment to a worthy cause.

It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation, which give you happiness.Thomas Jefferson

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.Helen Keller

Happiness doesn't depend on any external conditions; it is governed by our mental attitude.Dale Carnegie

Money Is an Unstable Resource

As a psychologist trained in Mindfulness and Compassion approaches, I have experienced and seen how cultivating inner peace and being accepted, heard, and understood can make people happier, regardless of circumstances. Focusing too much on money, status, and external proof of our worthiness can lead to anxiety and obsession, because these aspects of life are not stable. We can be laid off, spend too much, lose our money in the stock market, or our house can suddenly be worth a lot less. This can result in a loss of status if we live in a community that overvalues these things. For many people, this translates into a loss of self-esteem, anger, and questioning of the foundation of their lives. 

Money is a Necessary Evil

At the same time, living with little or no money can result in tremendous suffering in today’s world. Government programs, such as Social Security or Medicare are facing unprecedented crises and may no longer buffer us in old age. Mergers, acquisitions, age discrimination, and outsourcing threaten job stability. We do need to look after our money to provide us with resources should we face unexpected life difficulties.

Making Money Involves Sacrifices

The relationship of money to happiness is complex and complicated. We need to find a balanced attitude to money, rather than a fear-based one. We also need to look carefully at what sacrifices we make to earn money. How much do we sacrifice character, time with family, self-respect, or independence for our jobs?

Money & Therapy

The topic of money comes up with almost all of my psychotherapy clients. The very act of entering psychotherapy involves spending money to take care of ourselves, in the moment, rather than saving it for long-term security. Yet the lessons we learn in therapy can help us structure our lives and invest in ourselves so as to increase our overall psychological (and, sometimes, material) wealth, relationships, and quality of life.  

In my latest Psychology Today post, I examine research from the Gallup organization and top universities to see whether money buys happiness or depletes it. Read what I found out here.

If you live in Marin and are interested in my therapy services, read my profile and contact me via Psychology Today .  

I am excited to announce that, in addition to my Mill Valley office, I now have an office in San Francisco at 4333 California Street.

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