The Pursuit of Happiness

Posted in Blog
19/01/2021 Mduduzi Luthuli

We tend to pursue happiness as if it’s something attainable, something we should be aiming to achieve. In South Africa and similar cultures, we’re pushed fairly insistently toward happiness by an economy and lifestyle based on consumerism.

We’re falsely led to believe happiness is something you can buy as opposed to attaining naturally without the need for external acknowledgment. However, even living in a “happy focused” culture like ours doesn’t mean we’re more likely to be satisfied with our lives.

Most people struggle to think and plan long-term simply because they either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose.

Famous psychologist Victor Frankl said that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’” He also said that our constant search for happiness is a problem; It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.

We now have studies that have proved this by showing that the greater emphasis people put on happiness, the less happy they actually were. People putting the greatest emphasis on being happy reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about their life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms.

The pressure to be happy makes people less happy. Organising your life around trying to become happier, making happiness the primary objective of life, gets in the way of actually becoming happy.

So what should we do?

The thing about happiness is that it’s such an overused phrase and under-examined concept that we all barely have an idea of what it is and how it works, and this can lead us astray.

The crux of this whole issue is that when most of us are seeking happiness, what we’re actually seeking is meaning. These are 2 different things, only meaning is sustainable and fulfilling, and happiness without meaning really doesn’t lead to a great life.

Meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. Being happy is about feeling good or satisfying your needs and wants, so people who are happy are usually in good physical shape and can afford to buy the things they need and want.

They usually also have lower levels of stress and worry in their lives. So essentially, we’re happy when we get what we want. So what’s the problem with that you may be asking?

This is a problem only when our happiness outweighs the meaning in our lives. Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.

You don’t want to be rich—you want to be happy. You don’t want to be happy—you want a life filled with meaning.

Our culture is consumption-driven. The media teaches you to want the clothes and cars you see on TV and the watches and jewellery you see in ads.

Yet studies show that people who are materialistic tend to be less happy than those who aren’t. In other words, if you want to be content, you should own—and want—less stuff.

In their personal-finance classic Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin argue that the relationship between spending and happiness is non-linear, meaning every Rand you spend brings you a little less happiness than the one before it.

More spending does lead to more fulfilment—up to a point. But spending too much can actually have a negative impact on your quality of life.

Typically, as your income increases, your lifestyle grows with it. When your boss gives you a raise, you want to reward yourself (you deserve it!), so you spend more.

All that new Stuff costs money to buy, store, and maintain. Gradually, your lifestyle becomes more expensive so you have to work harder to earn more. You think that if only you got another raise, then you’d have Enough. But in all likelihood, you’d just repeat the process by spending even more.

Psychologists call this vicious cycle the hedonic treadmill, though you probably know it as the “rat race.” People on the hedonic treadmill think they’d be happy if they just had a little more money.

But when they get more money, they discover something else they want. Because they’re never content with what they have, they can never have Enough.

Being rich does not automatically lead to a rich life. There is a difference between money and success.

To be totally engaged with all my functions, all my faculties, all my capacities in life — to me that would be success. To be successful means to have developed character.

You should be looking for the joy, the struggle, and the challenge of work. What you bring forth from your own guts and heart. The happiness of hard work and creation. No amount of money can buy that. Those are things that bring meaning to life.

So should we not be pursuing money and wealth? Of course not.

Money is an integral part of life and anyone who argues otherwise is a liar. To answer this question, I tend to turn to the big lessons in a small book called Money and the Meaning of Life, the author is Jacob Needleman, a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University.

The love of Money may be the root of all evil, but only if you’re not honest about what it means to you. “Money is about love and relationships,” Needleman explained. “It has a wonderful power to bring people together as well as tear them apart. You can’t escape money. If you run from it, it will chase you and catch you. If we don’t understand our relationship to money in this culture, then I think we’re doomed. If you don’t know how you are toward money and really understand that relationship, you simply don’t know yourself. Period.”

Money truly can’t buy happiness, especially if you’re unhappy to begin with. “If you are worrying about vegetables now, you’ll be worrying about yachts then,” Needleman joked. “You’re a worrier. It’s in you, not the money. Life, except for the obvious physical needs, is not so much defined by the external situation as by the inner one. Having money won’t change your internal makeup. If you’re an anxious sonofabitch without money, you’re going to be an anxious sonofabitch with a lot of money.”

Being rich does not make you smart — especially about things other than money. “I met a guy who worked his way up from zero to a half-billion dollars,” the philosopher noted. “I asked him, ‘What was the most surprising thing you discovered when you got rich?’ He said, ‘Everybody asks my opinion about things because they think I know something. All I really know is how to make a lot of money.’ See, this guy wasn’t fooled by his money. That’s the key.”

Your money cannot define who you are as a person. It cannot give you meaning (lasting happiness). Money is a tool and we must learn to see it for what it is.

Viewing wealth and material possessions as a sign of success yields significantly better results to life satisfaction than viewing wealth and possessions as a sign of happiness.

Your happiness should never rely on money alone, but money can be a tool to motivate you to achieve major milestones in your life, which can make you feel happier in the long run.

Never lose sight of the other things that provide happiness that don’t necessarily have monetary value. These include family, friends, your health, continual learning and new experiences.

Money and wealth are simply a tool for enabling meaning, not meaning itself. Contact us on for your investment management needs.

Create wealth and allow your money to enable you to pursue and achieve major milestones in your life.  

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Any fool can know. The point is to understand - Albert Einstein