What's Worth More than Money?

Money is important. Obviously, if it wasn't many people wouldn't work. Or perhaps, we wouldn't work at our current jobs. Yet, how much money is needed?

Extensive research has been devoted to the question. Nobel Prize winners, Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, have looked at the problem and estimated $75,000 per year creates an equilibrium of happiness. Essentially, you would need a lot more per year to increase your "happiness level." On the other end of the spectrum, low income is a large factor for unhappy individuals. This means, money does buy happiness, but only when you hit ~$75,000/yr.

Why is this meaningful? I have thought of this issue for a couple years and uncovered something which may seem apparent to you, but has been a breakthrough for me. 

There are areas of life with greater value than money. Once you realize this, work actually becomes more fulfilling as you will choose to do the job which matches your purpose in life.

If you can reach a stasis of revenue near $75,000 then you can devote your life to areas which exceed the value of money. My wife and I live an exciting life together because we focus on these areas which cannot be measured in dollars. 

Some of my friends make more (much more) than I do, yet when I speak with them they do not enjoy their job or really life in general. They do not travel, make an impact on others, or live out their calling. The reason? They have not figured out, once you hit a certain level of income, happiness does not increase greatly. This creates a trap of continuously striving for more money while fulfillment can actually decrease.

Below is a quick list of items to identify areas to cultivate wealth which have nothing to do with your bank account. Note: time is the most valuable resource and is the foundation of each area listed, i.e. you need time to do any of the following.

Spiritual Development

This is a professional blog and will not discuss theology. However, to bypass this topic for fear of what others may think is wrong. We live in an incredible universe with countless unanswered questions. Discounting spirituality would remove a fundamental aspect of humanity. When I taught Cultural Anthropology at the University of Houston, we would discuss how every culture places a strong emphasis on religion. Throughout space and time, religion/spirituality has been an ever-present aspect of culture. The experience can't be bought, instead, it is an internal rite of passage. 

How to build wealth in spiritual development: 

  • Spend 5-10 minutes per day in deliberate time of prayer and/or meditation 
  • Disconnect from technology routinely 
  • Leave the city to view the stars and universe 

Health 

I admit, there are many times I am intimidated when I meet executives and others with high achievements. These are individuals who have climbed the ladder of success and made large sums of money. Initially, their achievements are incredible, then I realize something. They are physically unhealthy. This is not characteristic of every executive I have met, yet the number is higher than I thought it would be. In a moment, I notice I own something which they cannot buy with all their money . . . fitness. I might not look like I did in my early twenties as a personal trainer, yet I still exercise 5 days a week and eat well. Let me break it down as simple as possible, warning I am about to nerd-out as an anthropologist. We are primates! This means we are built to be outside, play, run, and jump. 

You cannot buy health directly. Sure you can purchase a gym membership, supplements, and a personal trainer. Yet, at the end of the day, only you can be healthy through your actions. 

How to build wealth in healthy living: 

  • Do 30 minutes of exercise you enjoy 5-6 times a week
  • Be active on the weekend 
  • Replace bad food choices, i.e. drink water instead of soda, eat fruits and vegetables instead of an afternoon carb-based snack 

Knowledge

Staying on the anthropological theme, a fundamental part of being human is our desire to learn. Watch a child solve problems. At first, they will get frustrated. Then they figure out something new and jump around excitedly. You were the same. There was great joy when you learned something new as a child, created an art piece for the first time, or started to play a sport or instrument. Then you grew up. Many people stop learning and turn into a robot where they do the same thing daily. Gaining knowledge is no longer a priority, yet it's something which can't be bought and is, therefore, more valuable than money. Nobody can take away the insights you gain from reading a book or developing a new skill. That is your new ability built through learning. 

How to build wealth in knowledge: 

  • Read . . . anything . . . just read
  • Instead of watching television at night, watch a Ted Talk 
  • Listen to audiobooks or a podcast while driving 

Relationships

I am really reverting back to my anthropology today. This was saved for last because it is one of the most important areas of any life. To reiterate, we are primates. Our entire history as a species shows we need to be connected. We are social animals who crave acceptance into a group. It is a hallmark of Homo sapiens and all higher primates. Your relationships with friends and family are one of your most valuable assets in life. Nothing compares. No amount of money can buy authentic connections. This is why you can travel to third-world countries and find happy people. They have a family bond which is unbreakable, trust me, I have witnessed this first-hand in Haiti on numerous occasions. 

How to build wealth in relationships: 

  • As a parent, do something your child likes and have them explain it to you. Quick story, when my son watches a cartoon I will sit next to him and work on my computer. Last week he wanted to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I asked if I could sit next to him, and he said, "yes, do you need your computer?" In a moment, I realized he wanted me to simply be with him. I put away the computer and watched the cartoon, he was so excited he explained every character and scene with great enthusiasm.
  • Go to coffee with a friend and put away your phone
  • Send a hand-written thank you card to someone who has impacted your life 

Evaluate Your Assets

What does the above have to do with professional development? After all, I specifically write for people to become their ideal professional self. It is rather simple. We should look at all our assets in life. Yes, your finances are important. Please don't be mistaken, we need to make money to be happy. 

However, there are many things more valuable than money. Finances are only are part of our fulfillment. Once you realize that, you can evaluate where you are in your profession. Are you at a job which pays well, but takes away from the above four?

I have spent years doing jobs which don't pay well (anthropologist, non-profit staff member, entrepreneur). But I have been able to live a life of spiritual development, helping others, traveling, working out, learning, and building life-long relationships. This does not make me better than anyone else, it is simply a life which reflects who I want to be and what I value. 

Once you identify the areas of your life which are greater than money, you are free to do what you really want to do. This is why the above is necessary for professional development. In order to live our ideal professional life there has to be the realization, money will buy happiness but has limitations. 

There are no limitations to the value of spiritual development, health, knowledge, and fitness. 

Matt Avery