Photo courtesy of Flickr, under creative commons license

Photo courtesy of Flickr, under creative commons license

There is a secret within us that typically takes a great deal of unraveling to discover.

Happiness is the only achievement.

Money, fame and power are attempts to acquire happiness, but their ironic result is generally the opposite: misery. Why is this? Because we confuse desire with happiness and expect that fulfilling our desires will make us happy. But, there is no path to happiness, happiness is the path.

One of my favorite sayings is “happy people give.” Unhappy people take.

This represents a worldview that helps model behavior with the ultimate goal of happiness as our motivation instead of external criteria.

This saying can be easily observed in the greedy and the giving. Whose face would you expect to be happier, Mother Theresa or Ebenezer Scrooge? (I realize Scrooge is fiction, but it’s to illustrate a point without naming a real vulture capitalist.)

This idea can be upsetting, especially in our western culture, because we operate as if happiness is the result of achievement.

And financial achievement has climbed to the top of most people’s goals.

When we accomplish something awesome, we feel great.

But this feeling is fleeting. Simultaneously, accomplishing nothing in a world rewarding achievement can trigger depression and low self-esteem.

These phenomena combined with a constant barrage of information from all media about success and achievement make this nuanced understanding hard to come by.

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Basic Survival Comes First

So happiness is tricky. It is found internally, but there are many reasons to not look inward.

To start, it is too abstract if you are suffering physically.

We need food, water and shelter before we can begin to grapple with ideas beyond survival.

Most Europeans are surprised to learn how low wages are, even in rich countries like the U.S.

This not a commentary on implications of raising the minimum wage or whether or not a rich man can enter heaven.

This is merely an understanding that feeling hungry, thirsty and physically at risk because you don’t have the basics removes your focus from a path of happiness to a path of survival.

Typically, however, once our basic survival has been secured, there is still a lot of stress and struggle to free our minds to happiness until, at least in our western culture, we achieve some success.

After our basic needs are met, there is still the struggle to pay bills, have spending money and do fun things, like travel.

Studies, data and observations have indexed all of the variables and come up with these few things.

Happiness with Income

There is a sweet spot with income.

It is $70,000 a year in the U.S. Reported levels of happiness trend up the fastest with income to that point.

After that, happiness and income start to drift apart.

While happiness still goes up with income for a while, it doesn’t go up nearly as fast as before that $70,000 mark.

$70,000 a year also correlates with the happiness and health of children.

Lower than $70,000 can indicate struggle and a reduced focus on them while over $70,000 can lead to spoiled children, also with a reduced focus on them while the parents focus on careers and earnings.

Poor families spend so much time trying to survive that children suffer from a lack of attention and incorporate philosophies founded on scarcity and being alone.

Children of wealthy families also commonly feel neglected by the fact that so much attention is placed on maintaining wealth, while the parent’s attempts to assuage their guilt with gifts leads to spoiled and dysfunctional children.

Additionally, this esoteric idea is not taught in our culture. We are taught to achieve.

But to what end? Achievement is good for the economy, but the economy is made up of people.

And people must learn to make their happiness a priority.

It appears that we must all learn that greed and happiness don’t coexist.

Again, this isn’t to say that money has no role in our experience.

We have needs and under our current economic reality, money is part of it.

But it can’t be the goal.

We must make a livable wage and that has been declining for decades in our economy.

Happiness is a Choice

Now when we look at our society and recognize that wages have remained stagnantover that several years and that there is a diminishing return as far as what more money can do for us, we must ask the question, why are we operating this way?

It is true that our pursuit of happiness is personal and it is true that money can’t buy happiness.

But it is also true that we must create the conditions where happiness has the chance to develop.

And as a society it is difficult to witness others suffer when our personal goal is happiness.

It becomes our personal responsibility to choose happiness despite our external conditions, although that becomes easier once we’ve reached a place of stability.

So right now realize, happiness is your choice regardless of your circumstances. Choose wisely.