To Earn – Money, Work and Happiness

Not just to have things, but to survive, you (seem to) need money, nowadays. It is one of the great inventions of humanity – and also one of those things which all too easily lead astray.

Money stands in for possessions and possibilities, gets hunted after or squandered, but never realizes its proper value in a good life unless we put it in its proper place.

Hardly anything we have come to is worse than the return to working poor – akin to the teeming masses of the proletariat which were around in the early heyday of Europe’s and America’s industrialization – who do work, but barely make a living wage.
The seething young adults who  seemed to be promised better opportunities, and find themselves having basically none – and all that, in cultures which either see successes that are not so easily replicated anymore, or even seem fascinated with futures that are absolutely dystopian, expecting worse to come, and just shrugging it off – are only one more example of this current “generation of pain.”

One does need to make a living, to have prospects.

In these increasingly uncertain times, where even “secure” jobs aren’t safe anymore, and in which the very weather seems more prone to extremes, there are both less and, actually, more chances.

Chances for a simple career, where you have a straight path from school through college to a job that pays ever more as you advance in it, look ever less likely. However, it should not be forgotten that ‘localized’ work still needs to be done in its particular places: we need teachers in schools, people providing material services (such as repairs, as outdated as they currently can seem), increasingly even farmers, again, who are at the place where we need them.
Even for jobs that can be done from somewhere else, it is not always clear whether that will be preferred, as human connections and links with the land come to be of higher importance. All in all, things appear more difficult and uncertain, though.

Chances for entrepreneurial and mixed work, combining different kinds of employment and working in/at/for different places – not least, online – have become greater, though. It is not easy, requiring ideas and hard work, but it is a possibility. You can go to a different country to work, nowadays – or you can stay where you are, even as a farmer, produce a local specialty, and find customers from around the world for it.

Like with all the things that make happy – but maybe even more strongly because money is such an important means and measure of the modern world – its contribution to a good life is a matter of its relationship with other things, its role in a lifestyle.

The relationship to work is an essential aspect of that matter. We work to make a living – typically, to make money – but that’s not the only reason why work is important for our well-being. Given the importance of those aspects – things like a sense of influence, achievement, contribution – it is all the more important to handle the balance between our income and our way of life, the place of money and other things that make happy, right.

The peculiar thing about money, when it comes to happiness, is that once the necessities are met, the focus on more – more purchases as well as more money itself – can become a dangerous illusion. Not only does more money not necessarily make happier – even lottery winners get right back to their earlier level of happiness, they “only” suffer (or are happy, of course) surrounded by more stuff. We get used to more, and just think it’s normal (and not only as wealthy people…).

That does not mean that earning good money for good work, or aiming to be financially independent, is worthless. However, the single-minded pursuit of more money distracts from other things that make happy, right to the point where it seems that you don’t have enough money to do lots of things, whether it’s true or not.

Oftentimes, it is really a lack of time and ideas that is to blame, and with creativity being limited in a peculiarly insidious way: by seeing so many “happy” rich people in  magazines and on TV that it seems as if you could – and could only – have a good life and great experiences if you had enough money to buy whatever you wanted.

Moreover, the pursuit of an affluent lifestyle even when one’s means are not up for it is a major reason why people go into debt who would, in fact, be able to get by okay… Not to forget that you can aim for more money (and to some extent, it is worth it), but we cannot all be financially rich and affluent, but we could all live good lives which are rich in ways that also count, and oftentimes more.

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