Surviving Twenty Something

Why Money Isn't Making You Happy

Life Advice, Money + HappinessJordanna RowanComment

Although I'm sure it wasn't done consciously, I grew up in a family that placed a good deal of importance on appearance and the collection of fancy possessions. I often heard this justified with "Well, in our family, we like nice things." Of course, they were following the path that had been laid out for them, seeking the happiness that was promised by the American— or in this case Canadian— dream (50% more KD, poutine, and butter tarts).

They strove for the perfect green lawn, the new car, the granite countertops, an impeccable rotation of seasonal decor, and stainless-steel appliances. I spent a lot of time thinking that I wanted to have these things, too, that if I got a good job out of university, and had a great house, the right clothes, and the perfect magazine-ready living room, and the high-end makeup collection to rival a Sephora that I would be beautiful and admired enough to be happy (note: admired, not loved. These things bring flattery and envy, instead).

I longed for the approval of dinner-guests, the gushing compliments over my book collection, sweet artwork, perfect coffee table arrangement and Anthropologie-ready kitchen. That was the point of it all— the external validation that I couldn't get from myself (read as: major self-esteem issues).

It wasn't until later on in university, after I had a major self-love check in and began to make some lifestyle changes that this externally-based validation that I had Made It had not, did not, and would not ever make me happy.

Only I could make me happy, and gals?

Only you can make you happy.

Here's why money isn't.

1. it wastes your time

Joshua Becker said it perfectly on his popular blog Becoming Minimalist: "We don't buy things with money, we buy them with hours from our lives." And my friends, nothing could be truer. 

We take on more responsibilities, more hours at work or a side-hustle job in order to make some extra dollars, sure that if we work more we will some how be able to afford to work less— except it never quite works out that way. We end up working more hours to buy things that we no longer have time to use (not to mention, hustling a 60 hour week? Stressful. Miserable. Exhausting). The time we spend pursuing money could be spent making art, reading, walking outside and exploring nature, hanging out with loved ones, getting to know new friends, and volunteering or speaking out for causes which are important to us. We can spend time making a difference in our lives and the lives of others, rather than making a dollar.

The solution? Find what it is that makes you happy and spend more time doing that, instead. Dedicate just one more hour a week to doing something you love, or something new like learning a language, exploring your city, or making a new friend.

RECOMMENDED: The More of Less: Finding The Life You Want Under Everything You Own


Firstly, if you haven't taken the Happiness Jar Challenge, you should do that! You might completely surprise yourself.

What are some of the things that make you truly happy? I guarantee most of them can happen with little to no cost (beyond your usual grocery bills, etc). Sitting outside in the morning drinking a cup of tea? Bliss. Reading a favourite book curled up during a storm? Perfection.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some time at a friend's cottage. And don't get me wrong, I'm totally, incredibly grateful. But even though their 'cottage' was really a summer house, with a professional kitchen, beautiful landscaping, new boat, A/C and more bedrooms than I can count, the best parts of the cottage trip had nothing to do with any of those expensive extras. The best parts were sitting on the dock watching the sun dance on the water. Having a campfire and playing slightly drunken cottage games. Having dinner with friends.

And all of these things could have taken place in a log cabin.

The solution? There are so many things we can enjoy that don't cost any money, and experiences that we can put our dollars towards that give so much more enjoyment than material possessions. Work less, buy less, enjoy more.



Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures. We can live in the far north, and in the desert, run stunningly fast sprints, and jog for days. You may have heard about the study where it was discovered that people who win the lottery and a people who were paraplegic after an accident both return to their former levels of happiness shortly after the impact of the event.

As with so many other things, we are extremely quick to adapt to changes in our style of life, whether hard times or abundance are in our future. This is called hedonic adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill.

I hate treadmills, you say with some serious side eye.

As you well should. When you're stuck on the hedonic treadmill, you lose the ability to find pleasure and joy in simple everyday experiences. The Starbucks you get every morning is required routine, not a treat. The fancy anniversary dinner isn't exciting, because you eat out once a week. Driving a kilometre to the grocery story is normal, not a luxury. 

You get used to being surrounded by luxuries, and so you acquire even grander luxuries, and work hard to maintain this new lifestyle, leading to— you guessed it:

an endless cycle of working, exhaustion, and general unfulfilled unhappiness.

The solution? Make the little things special again. Make treats a rarity (make coffee at home with fresh beans and a grinder, picnic in the park rather than going out for an expensive meal, bike to the grocery store), and I promise you they will never cease to be a delight. When Adam and I spend the afternoon at a local coffee shop, we are genuinely excited all week looking forward to that day. When was the last time you were that happy about picking up a coffee?

RECOMMENDED: The Power of Habit

So, I want to know: what simple joy are you going to bring into your life? What are you going to let go of that brings you stress and unhappiness? Let me know in the comments! 


p.s. 20 Ways You Can Have an Awesome Day For Free


Why money isn't making you happy: how striving for material wealth is making you unhappy, and what you can do about it.