The Paradox of Money

Between the end of World War II into the 21st Century, we Americans, as well as the entire industrialized world, got much richer. Far more wealth was created, during this period of time, than ever in the history of the world. Today we live in bigger homes, drive nicer cars, travel more, engage in more recreation, and benefit from technology that makes our lives incredibly informed and convenient. In short, we enjoy a far wealthier life style than ever before.

Yet the paradox is that, in spite of our affluence, we lead troubled inner lives. After peaking in 1957, the number of Americans who rate themselves as “very happy” has steadily declined. Depression has risen to ten times the rate of 1950. Statistics show that our health, sense of well-being, and connection to others have declined. Amazing that we have a greater standard of living and yet seem more dissatisfied than ever.

What’s up with that?

Perhaps all of these facts indicate that we’ve placed way too much value on money as the key to happiness. As I discussed in my newsletter last week, we are driven by the belief that “more is better.” So much so that savings rates, in the US, recently hit an all-time low and consumer debt at an all-time high of $1.7 trillion (three times the value of all US dollars in circulation) as people have tried to buy happiness by spending money.

I have a friend by the name of David Krueger who wrote a book entitled The Secret Language of Money in which he reports on his personal research in which he asks people how much money they would need to insure their happiness and financial contentment. Ninety percent of people answer that they would need twice their current income to be happy and free from money worries. That is true of someone who currently makes $25,000 a year, $50,000 a year, as well as someone who makes $500,000 a year. Amazing. The person who already makes 20 times that of the first salary I just mentioned, believes he or she would need to make a million dollars a year to be happy.

And here’s the kicker. Those who actually see their income double over time (say from $50,000 to $100,000) then raise the bar and claim that it would take $200,000 to make them happy. Change the numbers and the story remains the same.
And so we live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

I find that there are lots of seminars and books teaching people how to be rich these days. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker is but one of the latest examples. The guy has made millions through his book sales and popular seminars. People gobble this stuff up.

But, in truth, it’s not about the money. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves about money. And not just money but the stories we tell about our lives. I want to suggest that people who are happy tell themselves stories that have to do with gratitude. More than money, perhaps happiness is about cultivating a grateful heart. Kind of like Eduardo (see blog from January 18, 2011).

That’s what I think. How about you? Leave a comment. Tell me (and all of us) what you think.



  1. Sandra Rush

    Jay makes about half what he did during the years he owned his own business. I’m actually more content now than I was then because what he brings home is manageable. When he was making his highest salary we had to be constantly on guard to figure out taxes–not too much, not too little–and managing our funds. If he had continued to make that much money, I KNOW we would have ruined our children and bought them things they did better earning and buying for themselves. Because we didn’t have enough to absolutely spoil them rotten they’ve grown up to be hard-working, solid citizens. And we do just as well now as we did then at paying our bills, saving some for the future, and having enough for a pizza and movie, and an occasional trip. Doesn’t get better than that. 😉

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Sandra,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. How easy it is for us, as parents, to give our kids more than they really need and, thereby, set them up to think their happiness is largely related to financial prosperity. As you point out, maybe happiness is simpler than that.

  2. Nina Potter

    Wow Roger,
    I just read your wonderful book on the Hero’s Choice and am recommending it to my clients. What a great way to get the principles and tools across to the non-conscious mind. I already knew (and try to teach) most of them from other methods but your way of teaching them in the story was so clear and compelling. Of course I had to write them all out on paper so I can review them for myself at every opportunity.
    I keep thinking about an article I read about the people of Haiti who I always assumed must live very desperate, unhappy lives yet the author was talking about all the happiness and joy they experienced with the little they have. I am humbled to the core when I think of them.
    Living my Highest Self is indeed the hardest think I have ever done and also the most rewarding.
    Thank you for your gift of the Hero’s Choice,

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Nina,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed my book and took the time to write out the principles so you can review them. I wrote a workbook (on my webpage) that outlines the principles and gives you exercises to help you live them. It sounds like we both value the journey of living from our highest selves. Life blesses us with the opportunity to make this choice every day.

      And I appreciate your comment about the people of Haiti. There are people all around the world who truly live without even such basics as water, food and good shelter. And yet how amazing to read about their joy and happiness. Dominque LePierre makes the same point in The City of joy. A very touching story of a slum in Calcutta.

  3. Diane Nolen

    At one time we owned 1 million square feet of office/warehouse. We now own 180,000 square feet. More is definitely NOT better. The responsibility of a large company, employees, taxes, liabilities, etc. is a relief to be rid of!!! Even though the income is not the same, the peace of mind is more than worth it. We are able to manage our money better and still maintain a well balanced way of life. We’re grateful our parents taught us the value of money and that there is no substitute for hard work, something we have proudly passed on to our children.
    Diane Nolen

  4. Al Curatolo

    I was driving down the road and saw a bumper sticker that can bring you back to reality .GET RICH QUICK- and I thought of your article. Count your blessings Al.


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