Monetizing happiness

There is a story told that a financial planner was on holidays in Mexico and was walking along the beach one day when he came to a wharf and saw a fisherman sitting there, his feet hanging off the edge playing his guitar.

"Is that your boat?" the planner asked the fisherman.

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"It is," the fisherman replied.

They continued to have a conversation about the fishing in those parts and the financial planner learned that the fisherman had one boat and was quite a good fisherman, having become skilled in fishing from the generations before him.

"What do you like to do with your time when you are not fishing?" the planner asked the fisherman.

"I like to sit here and play my guitar. I play soccer with my children over there on the beach. I enjoy having a beer with my good friends and spending time with my wife," the fisherman replied.

"You seem quite successful with one boat, imagine if you had 10 boats like that," said the planner. "You would have money to take vacations and travel the world, money to build a bigger house. I could invest the money you make for you in a retirement fund. Your kids wouldn't need to take care of you when you are older and you would have more time to play guitar here on the wharf while your employees were out fishing. I can show you how to plan for that if you like"

The fisherman thought for a moment and his eyes widened in amazement.

"Let me get this straight, seor. You want me to go into debt to buy 10 more boats, so that I can manage 30 employees who might not show up for work, so that I can make more money, give it to you to invest and do exactly what I am doing now, play my guitar on the wharf?"

The monetization of happiness is a disease that affects our culture. It is not propagated by financial planners, (I do know some very ethical ones who have no part in that) but by our society in general.

It is perpetrated by banks through our access to easy credit. Marketers in the perpetuation of desires and even by our families as we encourage the next generation to climb the ladder to affluence.

This perception of happiness and money is not limited to business. Recently, I participated in a fundraiser for a non-profit, where it seemed that happiness was being monetized. The organization was tying donations to happiness implying that the more money you donated, the happier you would feel and the more sadness and perhaps guilt you could alleviate.

I am not saying that money is bad. We need money for our basic necessities, we need money for investment for businesses to create jobs, we need marketing to sell what we make and we need people to help us use our money wisely and share with others. However, we are at a point in society where we have created the illusion that more money equals more happiness. We know in our hearts that this is false, yet we all fall for it time and again.

So how do we move away from this notion that more money means we will be happier? Recently, I heard of a law firm who was recruiting lawyers by offering them less money but more time off.

As a business coach, I often have to catch myself and ensure that I am looking out for all the best interests of my clients and not setting them up on a treadmill chasing dollars.

As individuals we need to consider if spending more time pursuing more cash will really make us happier. Think about the people you know who have made the biggest difference in the world or your life. Were they rich?

Yes, more money might allow us to take more holidays on a beach, have nicer vehicles, fancier clothes and keep up with the Jones. But will that money mean that we sleep better at night, spend more time enjoying our friends and family, or contributing to society?

Will it make us happier? Having travelled the world (yes, with money I saved) most of the happiest faces and best memories were with people like the fisherman who understood that happiness was not dependent on having more money. When we begin to believe that happiness can be monetized, we lose sight of our true purpose or calling in life and become disillusioned in our misery.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning, happy business coach who has never been to Mexico. He is the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Comments or criticisms? Email

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