In The Money vs Happiness Debate, Why Not Choose Both?


Take a moment to think back to when you were just a little kid. You know, the good ol’ days when life was about drinking juice boxes and hanging out in the sandbox. No worries of resumes, retirement funds, or stock options clouding your mind. Now, try and remember what it was you thought you’d be when you grew up. Maybe you were preoccupied with dreams of becoming an astronaut or a doctor. Or maybe you thought you’d make it as a famous artist or actor.

Whatever your imaginings were, you probably weren’t as concerned with the details of reaching that dream – you simply trusted that you were going to travel to space or open up on Broadway. It was probably only later, as you grew older, that you became weighed down by the intricacies of following your aspirations. And inevitably, you probably learned that despite your ambition, passion isn’t always an accepted currency for rent.

A trip to the moon, it turns out, is a pretty pricey endeavor.

It’s not exactly fun or motivating to think about the money side of our passions. To complicate matters, we’re fed two very conflicting lines of motivation that make mapping out a professional future even more confusing:

1. Seize the day by following your dreams
2. Pursue (and achieve) financial success

The major missing component to that duo of advice? Those two goals don’t always overlap. In fact, most people come to a crossroads in life (sometimes multiple times) where they feel they have to choose… dreams or money? Striking out to pursue a passion or sticking with job security?

The choice isn’t easy! Financial security is crucial but happiness is an incredibly important investment in its own right. So how do you come to your decision?

You face the facts head on.

You lay out the issues at hand.

You make a realistic plan.

Ultimately, you don’t run away from asking  the tough questions. We’ll look at some of these questions below to help guide you and give you direction.

What’s the structure of your financial house?

Financial instability is usually the biggest issue that prevents people from taking the leap of leaving a job – and for good reason. As unromantic as it sounds, money does have an impact on your freedom. It gives you the flexibility to explore new options or change careers. While it’s true that money doesn’t equal happiness, financial security can help you to maintain authority over the direction of your life. Taking the pulse of your finances will give you a clear view of where you stand with your money. Some of the big ones include:

  • Retirement
  • Debt
  • Emergency fund
  • Investments
  • Other financial goals

Do you have a plan? Do you have savings? Debt? These are all important factors to look at before leaving a position in pursuit of something that may test the limits of your bank account for the next few months. If you can start out from a financially secure position, you have the option of putting more focus on pursuing your goal rather than worrying about how to make ends meet each month.

Do you have a goal?

Ideas can expand into grand ideas in the matter of a few imaginative thoughts. This is often why dreams feel boundless, or overwhelming. Having a dream is one thing, understanding where you want to end up with that dream is another.

Before you do anything, you must define your goal. We all have the mental capacity to dream big but without clear goals these dreams can easily overwhelm us to the point of mental paralysis or inaction. Once you have a clear goal in mind, you can map out the steps you plan to take in order to reach that goal.

Finding your bliss is a nice saying, but before you embark on the journey pin down what your bliss will be.

Do you have a backup plan?

Boats have life rings for a reason. While we hope for the best and assume success, safety first. In the case of following your dreams, financial safety first. Having a back-up plan doesn’t mean that you’re worried about failing – it means that you’ve acknowledged that life is unpredictable. You don’t want to pursue your dreams without giving a thought to how you might recoup financially should you have to reroute your goal or put it on hold.

Give yourself a safety net by marking out your Plan B. Imagine a few scenarios and understand what steps you’ll need to take should these scenes come to be. For instance, if you’re striking out to start your own business, consider potential roadblocks such as a competitor moving in on your territory or realizing the idea has been fully marketed already, etc. Don’t assume that your other accounts (retirement, savings, emergency, investments) will automatically cover your financial needs.

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Will you take ownership of your decisions?

It’s easy to adopt the mindset that life simply happens to us. We get into our daily routines, we continue forging on day after day. We brush our teeth in the morning because it’s just what we do after we eat breakfast. But each and every action in our life is born out of our decision to perform that action. Reframe the original habit and suddenly you see we brush our teeth in the morning because we choose to brush them. Similarly, you can reframe the way you look at other components of your life (professional, financial, or otherwise). Then, you begin to see your life is made up of a network of choices.

Before you make a major change, ask yourself, “Am I in the right frame of mind to take ownership of my decisions?

If you’re thinking about switching careers there’s no better time to take charge of your path. Proactivity is essential! That means being an active participant as you map your future. This isn’t the time to default to autopilot or GPS type navigation.

Ultimately, making a decision = a happy place

If you’re swaying back and forth, unable to make a decision, consider this: you can’t move forward without deciding to move forward. Following a passion is a scary concept, as is staying in a position that causes you great unhappiness. Work towards creating a plan that implements decisions with confidence. This is where you can begin the momentum that could take you to the very end!

So should you leave a secure job to pursue a dream?

Here’s the kicker – I don’t know. You’re the only one who can ultimately make that decision. You’ll have to weigh your pros and cons against one another, but more importantly you’ll have to realize that not all pros or cons will be in the same weight class. Some decisions will require a sacrifice, prioritize which you can live with and which you can’t.

Despite all the advice in the world only you have the full insight into your circumstances. Don’t shy away from asking your head and your heart the hard questions! Though they may seem to be opponents at times, your head and your heart make an excellent team. As with most things, the answer lies in creating a sustainable balance.

Image Credit: Maureen Sill

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  • Tre

    I think most of us tend to think in terms of this or that. I’ve been thinking about shifting to a lower paying position so I don’t have to travel as much. I’ve been living on less than my salary for a long time so I’m glad I have the option and am not dependent on the higher salary.

    • Claire Murdough

      I completely agree! Creating a savings cushion gives more flexibility for the future, even if that means making a few temporary sacrifices. Thanks for reading 🙂