The Financial Cost Of Happiness

My wife and I had a long talk about a week ago in the exhausted afterglow of a day full of packing boxes for the move. We were talking about the moments that make us genuinely happy, those instances in our life where we feel pure joy. We tried to make a list of them, but we both fell asleep during the conversation.

I relate this little tidbit because the concept of moments of happiness has been on my mind for a long while now and something about this conversation really kicked it to the next level. I spent the last week or so writing down every single moment that filled me with happiness. The list ended up having about fifty items on it; here are the seven from the first day: two of them were directly associated with writing success, two of them happened when I was playing with and interacting with my son, one was a tender moment with my wife, one was when I was making a homemade pizza and my wife and son and I all laughed at a silly moment involving the cheese, and the last one occurred when I was reading an article and kept drifting off into my own thoughts.

Why did I make such a list? I’m generally a happy person, but as with everyone else, I have moments where I’m happy and moments where I’m sad, but most of the time I’m just somewhere in between. To me, a happy life is one where the happy moments outweigh the sad ones, and that’s truly all that I want from life. I created the list because I was seeking all of the elements in my life that bring me happiness. What things do I do on a daily basis that make me happy? Focusing on them with my money and my life will lead me down a path of continued happiness.

Sound interesting? Want to give it a shot? Give this a try.

First, spend a week (or even better, a month) making a list of every event that happens that brings you real happiness. It can be a funny joke, it can be a moment with a friend, it can be a work success, it can be a beautiful piece of writing. Whatever it is that really makes you feel good inside, write it down with enough detail so that you can recall it. Carry a notebook around with you so you can jot them down as you go.

At the same time, jot down those things that really make you feel low. Maybe someone insults you and it hurts. Maybe you feel terrible because you can’t pay a bill. Look at those moments when you feel low and write them down as well. Why? They’re usually keyed to a souring of something that’s made you happy in the past.

When you have this list, first tease out all of the things that made you happy. What was it about each moment that brought on happiness? Also, figure out the financial costs associated with that thing, particularly in how it brought you happiness, particularly if it’s a non-necessary cost. You can then generally match up the things that make you happy with many of the things that made you sad. For example, one of the things that makes me happy is interacting with my son, but I was quite sad and worried when he had a really terrible rash on his arm a while back (it turned out to not be much of anything at all).

This final list of things that make you happy should be the things that fill your life. These are the things that are worth saving up for and worth doing with quality and gusto. If you’re dumping a lot of money into things that aren’t on this list of things that make you happy, cut back big time on them and use that money and time on the things that do bring you happiness. For example, I found a lot of time to work on this site because I cut out other hobbies in my life that weren’t bringing me much happiness any more. I also realized that debt made me sad and from that being debt-free made me quite happy, so I realized that focusing on freeing myself from debt was something I should really focus on.

It’s really worthwhile, as it exposes the core things that really bring joy into your life. By centering your life emotionally and financially around those things, you not only spend your money in a way that’s more in accordance with who you are, you often find yourself wasting less money and feeling much happier about the money you do spend.

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