Many people make New Year’s resolutions focused on earning more money. But is this the right approach to improve happiness and bring more joy into their lives? Money has become, perhaps erroneously, the ultimate measuring stick for just about everything in our culture. I often ask people what money means to them, and I usually get a similar range of replies: freedom… security… opportunity… power. I rarely ever hear the standard dictionary definition, which is that money is simply a means of exchange, or that money is meant to be the current, or currency, by which productivity flows. By this definition, one could argue that the movement of money is much more important than its acquisition.
I recently learned that the root word for money in the Hebrew language is flow. That really blew me away because it was something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.
There is nothing we can really do to create money because money is just a flow.
This flow is what lies at the root of capitalism—but capitalism and money in and of themselves are neutral. There is no inherent action to either of them. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t have money, but we all know of plenty of people who are miserable and have more money than they know what to do with. So, for us as a society perhaps the measure of money as success is really our own fault.
Through the work I do as a financial advisor, I see proof on a regular basis that having millions of dollars in the bank has no relationship to happiness—but people continue to insist that it does, even when their own experience seems to show otherwise. Many who have reached this milestone tell me that they still wake up in the morning and feel as if they’re broke.
Implicit in the statement, “Money won’t buy us happiness,” is the idea that something else will, even though we don’t quite know what that something is.
The good news is that we can reframe the definition of money in our lives, and by doing so perhaps reach a deeper level of success and fulfillment.
In my own personal experience and through my work, I’ve come to see and believe that figuring out and enacting our unique purpose in the world on all levels (individual, collective, industrial corporate, etc.) is a greater source of fulfillment than the possession of any external object—money included.
I used to host a radio show called Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity, where I talked to many people who in my mind were successful, and those were mostly people who got to do what they loved to do all the time, and that could be anything from a CEO of a large company, or perhaps a guy who skis 300 days a year and manages to do that on a $20,000-dollar-a-year job in a ski shop in the off season.
When someone knows what their true identity is, and when he or she takes the time to focus on who they are and what their values stand for, money often begins to fade into the background as a sole and primary motivator. We then don’t have to figure out how to be happy or successful because happiness and success are elusory. The people who are truly happy and successful are those who are so focused on what they’re doing that they don’t have time to think about whether they’re happy or not. Every morning when they wake up, they think they have something to contribute to the world, and if they don’t do it they’re simply going to burst.
It takes focus and commitment to find, develop, and own the particular expression that we have to contribute to the world, both as individuals and as companies.
When we are able to identify that expression, and seek to build our lives and companies around it in a way that offers something to the world, we may find the void I spoke of earlier filled in the most unexpected of ways. This is one of the main things I learned when I began to look for what might lie “beyond success.”
Jeff Gitterman is an award-winning financial advisor and the CEO of Gitterman & Associates Wealth Management, LLC. www.gawmllc.com. He is also the co-founder of Beyond Success, www.BeyondSuccessConsulting.com, a coaching and consulting company that brings more holistic ideas to the world of business and finance. This article is adapted from his first book, Beyond Success; Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity, which is published by AMACOM, the publishing house of the American Management Association. Jeff has been featured in the past in Money Magazine, CNN, AM New York, Financial Advisor, London Glossy Magazine and New Jersey Business Journal, among others. In 2004, he was honored by Fortune Small Business Magazine as “One of Our Nation’s Best Bosses.” He also serves as chairman of the advisory board to the Autism Center of New Jersey Medical School, an organization that to date has raised over a million dollars for autism research and support services.