Does Money Buy Happiness?

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“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” 

-John Lennon

The other day, one of my contractors gave his two weeks notice. He was leaving his relatively stable engineering job to go into business for himself, developing iPhone apps. It sparked a discussion over an eternal question: what does it mean to be successful? Does it mean to be happy, or to be rich? Or, are these two outcomes intertwined with one another?

In thinking back, I have seen a lot of people go through a lot of jobs.  Myself, I have had a job (an extremely low paying one) that I loved, and a job that paid twice as much that I couldn’t stand. What I have found is that if you love what you do, you will find a way to be successful. You will work harder, put more time in, think creatively and do what it takes to get things done.  Conversely, if you hate what you do, you will do what it takes to get by and get your paycheck, but you will feel unhappy and burnt out at the end of the day.

In looking at two associates with identical credentials in terms of education and experience, what is the difference between the two that causes one to outperform the other? The answer: motivation and an intrinsic drive to succeed; which are both derived from passion for one’s work.

Interestingly enough, according to the Motivation-Hygiene Theory, pay is not a motivating factor, but a hygiene factor. What this means is that if salary is not sufficient to satisfy basic needs, employees will be dissatisfied. However, Herzberg argued that increasing pay beyond the “adequate” level required will not increase motivation substantially.

Does this mean that we should underpay our employees? Absolutely not. However, it does mean that the other factors surrounding a job (recognition, opportunity for advancement, enjoying the work) could be more important than money.

In a materialistic society that praises wealth as a symbol of achievement, this notion can be difficult to accept. And of course, there are exceptions: some people can be happy doing almost anything as long as they are well compensated. There is no universal truth.

The bottom line: life is short. Do what you love, and do it well. Don’t let someone else, or society, create your definition of success.


Jenni currently works with Adecco’s global Information Management team as a Business SME on the Candidate Management Programme - Social Media. She’s been with Adecco’s Professional Staffing division since 2010 and held roles in on-boarding and compliance, client account management and technical recruiting. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, yoga and working with an animal rescue group.

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