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Employment & Internships Podcast Episodes

Does Money Equal Happiness?
money = happiness?

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Pete and Alex discuss future careers and whether or not monetary success equals happiness.

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This week’s tip is co-authored by Paola M. Hernandez Barón, Associate Instructor and Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student, Indiana University Bloomington

While it likely goes without saying that there has yet to be a proven answer, we’re asking that age-old question (and hopefully providing some insight): Does money = happiness? The careers we love won’t always make us as much money as we would dream to have. But the common connection – nay, comparison – between money and happiness could use some reconsideration.

So what you want to do might not make you a millionaire. Does that mean you have to sacrifice your career goals for making enough money to live happier and more comfortably? On the flip side, a lucrative career may not make you the happiest – or healthiest – person because of longer hours, harder work, or compromises against your beliefs.

When thinking about defining and truly breaking down the difference between what gives you financial success and what makes you happy, here are a few tips that might help you to think about whether the two have to lead down different paths.

Define Your Values

A poor man steals from a wealthy man to feed his family. Is what the poor man is doing morally right, morally wrong, or does it fall somewhere in between? Well, that depends on how you prioritize your values. Is it more important to note that he’s stealing, or that he’s taking a risk in order to feed his family?

At the end of the day, it’s about identifying what’s important to you, defining values that will outline ways by which you live your life. Your values will help you set the parameters on making decisions, whether that’s in your future career or with individual decisions you make. When it comes to choosing a career, in many cases, what you decide to do and in what areas you make concessions are determined by how much in line those things fall with your values.

Upon graduation, you’re moving into a world where companies and organizations have already defined their own values and ideas about how they will operate. It’s up to you to set those for yourself as well, which will better help you to assess where you could work; places that will make you happy where the culture aligns with your values, and whether or not that means settling for a lower or higher salary.

Identify Your Future Goals

This may sound elementary, but in order to identify what you want to do and why, you have to set a goal system to help you map out the road you choose to take. Ideally, your goals in life – whether they include buying a home, getting married and starting a family, or being rich just for the sake of being rich – they will align with your values. Of course, these will be different for each person, because your value system is unique to you.

Once you have defined your personal values, they will help you to set goals for yourself. What do you want to do? What’s important about it to you? Where will your achievements take you in life?

Defining what “success” and “having money” mean to you can help you to answer those questions; they can provide avenues to help you reach your goals. And sometimes, it may take you multiple steps to get there. Many people take several career avenues before they reach their final one. So, along the way, you will want to…

Recognize Areas of Compromise

What we don’t want is for you to find yourself in a place where you’re compromising your goals because of something standing in the way like your student loans. Your debt shouldn’t be a determiner of how you decide to make a living after graduation. While it’s important to at least recognize where challenges might lie against your definition of future success; we also want you to realize that they don’t have to define your goals.

We like to think of Marshall’s character from How I Met Your Mother. If you watched the show, you’ll remember that Marshall struggled between living his dream as an environmental lawyer and working in corporate law to make more money and support his family. By working in corporate law, he was directly compromising his values of “saving the world” by protecting the environment. However, his decision to go corporate was due to his prioritization of financial supporting his family first.

Just because you do something that doesn’t make you happy for a while doesn’t mean that you have to completely compromise all your values in the process. For Marshall, he was choosing his family as a priority and sought out more money but turned his back on his career goals until he was in a better financial position.

You may find yourself in a place of choosing between doing what you love as a career or as a hobby in order to make more money. But deciding whether or not your happiness lies within making more money, the career path you take, or if you can have both all depends on how you define what’s more important for you.

Be Okay with Your Answer

Once you make that decision (and it may change several times), be okay with it. You have your whole career to assess the resources and options available to you that can allow for you to understand how your values, goals, career, and definitions of success in life influence each other. Part of choosing a road of money and/or happiness will depend on what makes the most sense for where you want to be and why you want to be there. And if you can’t find the answer right away, it’s okay. Just take some time to re-evaluate, and figure out how to be happy doing something else.

While you’re in school, take advantage of those resources on your campus, and talk to faculty and staff who can help you make the right choices for what will make you happy and successful on your own terms. And if you need help with your financial along the way, don’t forget to call on the MoneySmarts Team ( for a quick appointment.

Of course, we haven’t defined whether or not happiness equals money (but did you really expect us to?) Ultimately, it’s not about whether or not more money = more/less happiness. It’s about redefining the terms to align your values, goals, and what route you take with them, to determine what that equation adds up to in your life.

Money and happiness may or may not lead down two different roads, but you don’t have to pit the two against each other in making your decisions.