Monday, May 12, 2014

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness: Why Forgetting this Old Adage is Hurting America (and maybe some other places too)

When I was in grade school adults used to tell me things like, you can be a doctor and help people, or you can be an astronaut and fly to the stars, or a dancer and bring beauty to the lives of millions. By the time I got to high school “adult” attitudes had greatly changed. You should be a doctor or lawyer because you can make a lot of money. Don’t go into theater, you’ll end up as a waitress. Having now been in college for several years it has become, What are you going to do with that degree? How much can you make with that?

This coming from a demographic that boasts a 70% dissatisfaction with their jobs. Yep – these are the people that want me to listen to them about employment.
That’s right, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, “70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.” I didn’t really need a report to tell me this, but it’s nice to link to something a bit more authoritative than myself sometimes. Many of the people I know are happy to have jobs that put food on the table, but that is all it is, a means to an end.

This ugly statistic might look pretty to start this post off, but the important question is why do so many Americans hate working? Because it’s work, right? Yet, sometimes that which is most obvious is that which is an illusion. I disagree that work must be a negative experience, but first I turned to the Internet to see if there is some trend in popular opinion to answer this question. In very summarized form, here is what I found:

BloombergView: money and pride
24/7 Wall St: job stability
Forbes: Benefits

I think they all got it wrong. I think this dissatisfaction started before these people were even old enough to start working a profession. I think it started the day some well-meaning but misguided adult told them their dreams were unrealistic. I even remember seeing a Ted Talk about this very fact (which will be linked here once I find it again).

Why do I think this way? Because starting around the time kids start looking for a college (or at least this is how it was for me) people – by which I mean teachers, family, family friends and sometimes other classmates - all start talking about money. How much will that school cost? How much will you make with that major? If you go that expensive school you better major in uber dollars (business) to pay back the loans. If you go to that state school you better major in uber dollars (computers) or you will starve. Above all remember there is no money in art, humanities, or social science so you better stick with something “real.”

I know a few people who took this advise. Who prioritized money over passion. None of them are happy in their careers. Not one. Oh they are all doing financially better than I am, but as I am clearly on the slow path (graduate school) I don’t feel this is a fair comparison quite yet. Maybe I am just speaking too soon. Maybe I will become the world’s most educated waitress, but I doubt it. I decided to go into one of those “useless” social science majors. A major that, in my opinion, is literally the most important field of study there is. Maybe this is why I am satisfied with the work I do (when I have it) because I followed a dream and not a dollar. 

There is one more important point to bring up here, though I will treat it only briefly because I know money talks on its own. All 4 of the links in this article at least mention how lack of engagement hurts the bottom line - unhappy employees are not engaged nor productive. This is why its hurting America and not just Americans (and any other nation in the same predicament). 

Preview: So why do so many see it as “useless” or at best of unknown use? Because they can’t see the people through the money. More on that next time.

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