Money alone won't make you happy, but understanding why you want more of it can help

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

At the start of every new year, attention is often paid to setting new goals. It’s during this time that money and materialism are most prevalent.

If economic differences between you and others bring up feelings of guilt or envy; if you feel trapped as if you are giving up a piece of yourself for the dollar; or if you have no idea of how much is enough, you may be at risk of one day being greedy. And this could destroy not only your money, but also your relationships and your life.

Greed is a symptom not a cause

Most people don’t want to be greedy — they just don’t realise they are being greedy. Greed is a symptom, not a cause.

Viktor Frankl, the famous German Jewish psychologist and survivor of the concentration camps, explained in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that we as human beings need meaning in our lives. He gave the example of one of his friends in the camps who came to him explaining that he wanted to commit suicide. “Why don’t you do it?” he asked his friend. “I couldn’t do it to my wife,” the friend replied.

Sometimes we live for more than life itself. According to Frankl, without meaning human beings will revert to power and pleasure. We try to use these to fill the void, and having grown up in a capitalist society most of what we know can be bought with money. And it’s money that fuels power and pleasure. So we get caught up in the “capitalist myth” – study hard so that you can get a good job, then work hard for a long time so that one day you will have enough money to be independent and free to contemplate the life you really want. Problem is, we never seem to have enough money – and everybody knows this.

Thinking that more money will make you feel better

iStockStatus anxiety — worrying that you need to maintain a certain lifestyle to be happy — can be a trap.

So why does the myth persist? “Freedom” from the feeling of “suffering” becomes the quest. And money becomes the perceived solution. As more and more money and materialistic goods are achieved, so do our desires for more increase. The craving for more to fill the void is exponential and sometimes becomes a desperate struggle. Greed is never the cause, only the symptom. The cause is thinking that more money will make you feel better.

Status anxiety doesn’t help. As we become materialistically better off but feel no different, we search for those in our circle who appear to be happier and seem to have what we seek. Unfortunately they are in the same desperate cycle but pretend to be different, causing us further confusion and a greater desire for more. It’s a never-ending cycle as we try to fill the void. More power, more pleasure, more things. A crisis of meaning.

Goals without a purpose will perpetuate the cycle

Those very few who achieve such inordinate amounts of wealth and materialism that it becomes impossible to crave more, often noticeably and openly search for meaning. Either that or they lose the plot completely. Ultimately, what’s behind this craving is a desire to feel good about oneself.

Once the basic physiological needs have been taken care of, real motivation moves to relationships, self-esteem and the need to have a meaningful life. If for some reason this is unattainable, frustration sets in and power and pleasure become the focus — and money becomes the fuel.

Setting goals is all very well, but goals without a purpose will perpetuate the cycle of need and greed. Goals are stepping stones to get from the present to the destination. Goals are doing and having, not being. And it’s only being that can ultimately satisfy. This means that it’s fine to have the biggest possible goals — but they must be linked to your life’s purpose. A purpose doesn’t need to be inspiring to others. It’s not necessarily something that will make you famous or provide admiration. It’s often very simple, and it’s always about being, not having. These “deep motivators” are the foundations of goals, and goals unattached to deep motivators, are doomed to failure.

Now is a good time of the year to contemplate “why”. Why work? Why money?

Some examples of “whys” are:

  • “To be the parent my children are proud of”
  • “My life is with my partner”
  • “My life can’t be all about me”
  • “The greatest sin of all is not using your talents”

Money may help in the achievement of the goals behind these motivators. The cost of private schools, the freedom to spend time, the money to contribute to others and the time and money to develop oneself — money may be of great assistance. But a purpose remains the same, with or without large amounts of money.

As Joseph Campbell said in his book The Journey of a Thousand Faces, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Goals need to be measurable and will often include time and money. But without being clear about why they’re important to defining the person, they are doomed, in one way or another, to fail.

If you’re not conscious in your life, you cannot be conscious in financial matters.

Justin Hooper is the managing director of Sentinel Wealth and a financial strategist, speaker and author. In a supplement recently published in The Australian newspaper in conjunction with Barron’s magazine in the US, he was named one of Australia’s top 50 financial advisers in 2018.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.