Money and happiness are two of the most powerful forces in our lives, but what's so interesting to me is how we've convinced ourselves that there's a powerful connection between them: We seem to think that if we were rich, our lives would be perfect. My friends, I hope I can convince you otherwise.
The Money Myth
In my years of talking to thousands of people who've had no money, some money, and heaps of money, I've found that it doesn't create or sustain happiness. That's not to say that money isn't an important factor in our emotional state—if we can't pay our bills and support our families, we carry a great deal of stress on our shoulders and in our hearts. But it's seriously flawed logic to jump from a position of "money is important" to "money is the key to happiness." Need some proof? How about the articles we've all read about lottery winners who buy a ton of goodies after they hit the jackpot, but within a few years tell the world how out of control and miserable their lives are? It reminds me of how some of us have a screwy relationship with food. When we're unhappy, we gorge on comfort foods that we believe, either consciously or subconsciously, will make us feel better. Sure, that hot fudge sundae might give us a nice temporary lift, just like buying a great new handbag or outfit—but it's temporary.
Truth and Consequences
The average U.S. household has a credit card balance of about $8,000. It's hard to be happy when you carry an $8,000 balance on a credit card that charges 18 percent interest. My message to you is that happiness is not tied to how much money you have—how much you had in the past or hope to have in the future—but how you deal with what you have right now.
I want to be very clear that I fully understand that it's far more difficult to live on $20,000 a year than $200,000. I know this from personal experience; until I was 29, I was a waitress bringing home $400 a month. But I also know that we all have the capacity to take control of our lives—regardless of our bank accounts—and to commit to making the right decisions for ourselves and our family. When we do that, we're on the road to happiness. When you're happy, you create your own financial stability by living within your means.
In my experience, most people are unhappy because they aren't being honest with themselves. Being truthful with yourself plugs you into your inner power. Whether it's your relationship with money or with a partner, you aren't going to be content or successful until you are connected to your heart and operating with all your energy. Quite simply, by making the right choices from a position of strength rather than weakness, you are bound to be happy. In part you'll feel better because your finances are in good shape, and also because you took the initiative to create a life based on honesty. In my book, that's the priceless route to ultimate happiness.
From the March 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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