How much do you really need?
We have by now all seen this quote emblazoned on the side of the vans that daily swarm virtually every neighborhood in America. I like that it includes a warning because that is what this post is all about. Happiness. Does it really need to come in the form of a package? In America, the land of endless click and get, we have been conditioned to think so, but studies into what truly makes humans happy show otherwise.
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness isn’t spending it right.”
Ironically, this line was affixed to a series of Lexus ads a few years back. The message is that if you could afford that flashy new vehicle, your life would be instantly and, hopefully, permanently happy. However, If you have ever been lured into actually doing this, you know firsthand that it is untrue. The lift one feels after purchasing a new car, home, pair of designer jeans, or expensive handbag is temporary. The feeling lasts for a while, but ultimately, the need for more begins anew.
To find what will make us stop pushing the button for the next thing, we should examine the self-proclaimed happiest country in the world, Finland. According to a Gallup-based poll, Finland’s happiness meter ranks at the top for the sixth year in a row. Finland is followed respectively by Denmark and Iceland. For perspective, the United States ranks #15, right after Ireland. (Hunter, 2023)
How do Finland and all Nordic countries fare so well in the happiness department? The government system set up to support the citizens of these countries offers free health care, free education, paid family leave, and an adjustable work week. This leaves more time to be with family and friends and also bolsters the desire of the citizens of these countries to protect what they have. This results in Nordic countries having the lowest crime rates in the world. This desire to protect rather than defend the Nordic way of life is a deep departure from the competitive nature of American culture, where everything from how accurately you can throw an axe to how many steps you log over your day is cataloged then displayed on social media. Finns tend not to participate in this competitive style and instead do activities because it pleases them, not because it will make them look better than their friends or family members.
Let’s get back to what this means for you and me. Moving to Finland is most likely not in the cards for us, so what can we do to understand how to capture some of this Nordic joy? Next, let’s look at Maslov’s well-known needs scale to help us all understand why more does not always translate into joy.
In Maslov’s model, we see that if one does not have enough money to meet basic physiological needs, money can indeed buy happiness. We must have basic provisions to be at a baseline of happiness. The next level regarding safety also involves a financial bottom line. If one does not feel safe, does not have stable income opportunities, access to health care, or lives in a war zone, access to the financial means to upgrade oneself out of this place is great, and the resulting increase in meeting one’s needs for safety will definitely increase one’s level of happiness.
The next levels in Maslov’s scale are where the amount of money one has in relation to their sense of belonging part ways. While it seems in many ways that one can purchase status through material goods and perhaps respect through a high level of education, this does not last. In the orange and green zones, many people in America get stuck in the never-ending cycle of pushing the button to get the thing that will finally stop that inner voice saying, “If only you just had X, you would have everything.” This is the irony of the final level in Maslov’s scale.
Self-actualization in this model is listed as the highest level of happiness. It is what people in Finland enjoy more than anyone else in the world. Self-actualization does not happen because of how much one owns. It happens because we are happy with who we are.
How does this look in reality? Our eldest son is an excellent example. He analyzed his life in the corporate world and decided never to become a part of it. He buys exactly what he needs to meet levels one and two on Maslov’s scale; levels three and four come naturally because he is not in debt, has a job he loves, and truly enjoys being a part of our family life. His existence is his creation, and this sense of personal ownership allows him to work toward self-actualization faster than someone buried in debt and living far above their means. How does he do this? He lives in an old, retrofitted RV that he lovingly maintains; he rides a motorcycle to save gas because it brings him joy and works enough hours to meet his needs. He determines all his life choices, not an external source. He also lives in Whatcom County, close to the water, with monthly living expenses well under $1000. Should he choose to, he will be purchasing his first home in a few short years.
Lexus was right; how you spend your money directly determines how happy you are. So, to follow in Finland’s footsteps, buy a home that is easy to make your mortgage payments on, and then with the extra time you now have because you do not need to work as much, skip the drive in the never purchased Lexus and take a much-needed walk in the woods.
See you out there.
Aleksandrovič, E. (2022, Juanary 13). Adventures.com. Retrieved from WHY IS FINLAND THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD?: https://adventures.com/blog/finland-happiest-country
FUTRELLE, D. (2017, August 7). Time. Retrieved from Here’s How Money Really Can Buy You Happiness: https://time.com/4856954/can-money-buy-you-happiness/
Hunter, M. (2023, March 20). CNN. Retrieved from The World’s happiest countries for 2023: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/world-happiest-countries-2023-wellness