What is the nature of the relationship between wealth and perceived well-being?
In my previous post, I mentioned that there are instances where people accumulate a significant amount of wealth at the expense of their well-being. While this is true in some cases, I think it is also important to point out that there are people who make a significant amount of money and are very content with their lives. Maybe this is because they simply love what they do. Or perhaps they work a demanding job in order to provide for a family that brings meaning into their lives. Certainly, either of these reasons would be very noble ones for somebody to accumulate wealth, and so the last thing I would want to do is paint out wealth to be a bad thing that comes at the expense of well-being in every instance.
What these observations lead me to ask though is what is the true nature of the relationship between wealth and perceived well-being? From the above examples, I think a valid conclusion is that as long as the person finds meaning in what they do on a regular basis, then accumulating wealth as a side-effect is actually a good thing, as long as it is not the only thing.
The concept strongly ties into the saying “the best things in life are truly free.” For example, if you apply PERMA (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment) theory to a person’s job, then it is possible that they are living a very meaningful and fulfilling life. Their happiness is not contingent on earning money or buying material things. The person experiences Positive emotions through smiling at the opportunity they have been given in their lives. They experience a high level of Engagement by applying their talents to the best of their ability. They build strong Relationships with people at the workplace who share a common goal. Their sense of Meaning comes from contributing to something bigger than themselves, whether that be making the company grow or something else like providing for a family. Finally, they feel Accomplished after a job well done at work. Notice that with every single one of these examples, the achieved sense of happiness and well-being comes without a single penny of their income being spent in order to achieve it.
Therefore, with a firm foundation of PERMA being applied, the person could live a very meaningful and fulfilling life. Any wealth that they accumulate would be a mere side effect of what they love to do anyway. The relationship between wealth and well-being would be perceived much more optimistically with this perspective.
This perspective, however, contrasts with other theories of wealth and well-being, where happiness is supposedly the result of accumulating wealth. In this model, the only consideration for a job is the salary so that the person can drive the nicest car, or have the biggest house, or have the latest iPhone on the market. Only after obtaining these things will the person finally be happy according to this line of thinking.
Personally, I favor the more optimistic perspective. In reality, however, the majority of us are going to be somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum. Still, I strive to view things in the optimistic perspective because my happiness is not dependent on what is coming up in the future. I can be happy with what I am doing today, and be excited to do something similar the next day. The happiness that is experienced is also not temporary pleasure but instead prolonged peace and contentment. Finally, I still have the opportunity to enjoy pleasurable activities, but they are not my only source to turn to for happiness.
There is certainly a lot more to this topic, and so I welcome any contributions that any of you may have about the topic of wealth and well-being. If nothing else, I hope that you are able to apply your talents to the best of your ability in whatever occupation you currently hold. I also hope that you are mindful of the great things that you do for the company, your customers, your family, and all those around you. This mentality is much more sustainable to have over the long-term than some of the other theories of wealth and well-being. Thanks for reading, and have a great day at work or school or whatever it is that you do tomorrow!