Money and meaning

The final week of summer is upon us. Although I’ll be missing the glory of summer days, it’s quite exciting that the university campus will be welcoming eager young minds into its halls again. It’s the start of a new academic year, we have new leadership with a new Vice-Chancellor at the helm, and there’s the promise of new beginnings which gives hope. There’s also Mad March and then looking forward to cooling nights, indulgent pasta, and winter.

The summer months have also seen us say farewell to colleagues who’ve gone, classmates who’ve graduated, and goodbye to holidays. In some ways, I’m also relieved that we’ve survived 2020. There are still many challenges ahead, (like writing my thesis) but the pandemic and even natural disasters such as bushfires and cyclones have allowed for a much-needed shift in perspective. So many have lost jobs, homes, and have been separated from loved ones. What do you really hold dear in your life? What really matters?

Kindness and grace matter, but also living authentically and deliberately. Happiness as a goal is wonderful, but how do you reach it? How do you define happiness?

A spacious house by the sea in a remote coastal town would surely make me happy, but I would also miss my friends and family. At the stage of life that I’m in, I want to live close to friends and family, and also not too far away from work and the University, even if that means living in a smaller home. I’m still relatively young and want to experience a lot.

I’ve contemplated on that last sentence quite a bit. I feel like I should be saying, “I’m still young so I need to earn a lot”, but deliberately used want and experience. More than a comfortable life, I would like a meaningful life. Maybe it’s because I’ve had the privilege of having such a comfortable life that I realise there is so much more than that. I do feel the constant urge of wanting more, but then see other people who listen to that voice and end up losing so much more. What is the right balance though? Is there such a thing? 

A 2018 study from Purdue University found an ideal income range using data from the Gallup World Poll. Apparently, this ideal point is 95,000USD for life satisfaction and 60,000USD to about 75,000USD for emotional wellbeing. Earning more than 105,000USD saw happiness levels start to decrease. Why? It’s because most of the richest people in the world can still look around and find someone who earns a fraction more which then gets them to doubt whether they are as happy as they think they are and whether they need to earn more to feel happier. I guess there’s always wanting a holiday shack by the beach and then wanting a forest retreat in the hills overlooking a vineyard and then a condo in the city… and so on and so forth. I remember one of my undergraduate psychology lecturers discussing the concept of hedonic adaptation whereby we adapt to lifestyle changes and as our income rises, so does our ambition and we try to climb higher and higher. Brad Klontz who is a financial therapist and a psychology professor says, “At the end of the day, we are human beings and we struggle with existential issues like what’s the meaning of life, and who am I? And those sorts of questions don’t go away when you get a bunch of money.” 

I don’t think there is anything wrong with ambition or with money, but it depends on the meaning and the purpose I attribute to it. I think that in looking forward, and as I build my career, I’d focus on financial stability yes, but also on purpose, meaning, and community. I want to ensure that I have security in retirement, but also more than enough to pass on to my children. In as much as I want to contribute to their own financial security, I want to contribute to passing on to them a planet that they can still enjoy and revel in. 

“But being enveloped in work you enjoy - paid or unpaid - can be hugely satisfying and meaningful.” Julia Baird
“It’s having a purpose. It’s finding meaningful employment, it’s finding a meaningful hobby that absorbs your fascination to a place where depression just can’t get in. It just can’t exist when you are in that place.” Lisa-Ann Gershwin


Tagged in What messes with your head, Student life, jobs, career, mental health, health and wellbeing