Have you ever wished you had more money? Have you ever thought to yourself, if I had more money things would be much better? In one of the crazy national lottery ticket sprees, the jackpot was around one billion dollars. It was interesting, because when the jackpot was at one hundred million dollars few people really cared. Is not one hundred million enough? When the ticket got close to the billion dollar range people started buying tickets, myself included, in hopes of winning. Why? If you were to ask everyone who bought a ticket, they’d all have different reasons for their purchase, and a different idea of what they’d do with the earnings.
Needless to say, money gets our attention. Yet, even without the lottery, money matters. We need it to live. Without it we struggle! Without money we can’t eat or have shelter. Because money is something we need, we are constantly face to face with it. It’s like food, we need it and can’t live without it, but too much of it, in certain people, can be detrimental. We can all admit that we have seen both the good and the bad that money can bring into the world. But can money make us happier? Will arriving at this destination fulfill our deepest desires?
DESTINATION #3 MONEY MATTERS
There is interesting research about the connection between money and happiness. In my findings, research shows that those who live below the poverty level, who are poor, and in need of the basics to live (food, water, shelter) struggle to be happy. Understandably this would be difficult for anyone. Deep poverty certainly breeds despair. Being without basic necessities is terrible, and, in many cases, dangerous! Most of us would certainly struggle to find hope without these fundamental provisions. Studies go on to show that after the basics are met there isn’t much difference in happiness between those with a ton of money and those with little money. Meaning that after certain needs are met, money doesn’t affect your happiness…other things affect it (relationships, faith, outlook on life, pain, unforgiveness, hurts, brokenness, etc.).
I drive a basic truck that provides my needs of getting to work. Everyday I look out on the road and think about driving a much nicer, newer and more expensive truck. There’s nothing wrong with having either truck, mine or the nicer one; but would having the nicer one make me “happier”? Studies show that the answer is, “No.” Why?
In my work as a speaker, life coach and youth minister, I have spent significant time with people on all ends of the spectrum when it comes to money. I held a million dollar check in my hand from a generous person (the money wasn’t for me) and I carried a poor, naked man to his bed in a homeless shelter. Yet, I’ve seen myself get distracted many times by seeking more comfort, more success and more of what money could do for me. There was a point in my life where I was confused about the role money played. I found myself longing for something, something more; more simplicity or more wealth, thinking one or the other would make me happy. Where is the balance?
I realized that the amount of money I longed for wasn’t the real issue; it was my outlook and my perception of things. My brokenness inside magnified what was missing from my life. I began to seek God and asked guidance from those who had wisdom in this area. In the process, I recognized some unique characteristics in people who were happy both with and without money. What I saw as common threads in happy people who have little money and those who are wealthy, has drastically transformed my outlook on life, and has become a place of freedom for me.
The first common trait I see in people who are happy wether or not they have wealth, is a sense of detachment.
There is a passage in scripture that states, “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10) This verse provides a pretty strong statement about money. Yet, we can’t sum up God’s teaching about money from one scripture verse. If you zoom out, there is much more at play here. The writer of Timothy’s letters is getting at something. It’s not really about “the money,” it’s about being “attached” to money. It’s about being sidetracked by the lure of money and the things of the world. Being attached to money is what steals our joy and peace. Being attached to anything, steals our joy and peace!!! We can’t be free to live and to love when we are attached to something…being attached takes away our freedom to choose and our freedom to respond.
We’ve all heard the saying, “If you love something, let it go.” Why? Because if we hold too tight to something or someone, we can’t fully love, we can’t fully see, and we can’t fully give. Attachment is the exact opposite of detachment. The writer in Timothy speaks about detachment when he states, “For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.” (1 Tim 6:7) This sums up detachment. Detachment is the reality that nothing belongs to us. All that we have a gift that we can live with or without. It’s interesting to meet a wealthy person who is content with or without possessions. Their detachment is a witness to what it means to truly live in peace. They aren’t enslaved by their possessions.
It is also a witness to see someone who has very little in terms of money, and is still detached from money and possessions. This, too, brings peace and joy to one’s life. Although detachment is difficult, it’s what we long for. We aren’t created to be attached to this world. We are created to live in freedom, detached from earthly possessions and at peace with what we have been given. We are simply “passer-byers” on this planet, waiting and longing for the day we will live forever when our time on earth is complete. Those who find detachment are those who find authentic joy in their life.
The second common trait I see in those with and without money who are happy, are those who have a God centered vision of what money is meant for.
Stated simply, money is a tool used for the good of all and to provide for our basic needs. This can play out it many different ways, but the trait is the same. It isn’t focused on a specific dollar amount, but on an understanding of how to use the gift of money for good. I’ve seen those with very little money use some of it for selfish reasons and use money out of its context. I have seen people with lots of money do the same thing. I have also seen someone with very little have a full grasp of the gift that money is to him or her, despite having very little. And I have seen someone with much money, do great things with what they have been given. There is a connection with this trait, rooted in a deep sense of faith and respect for what one has and doesn’t have. There is also an understanding that all things are gifts from God, undeserving, but gifts nonetheless. Those who have this trait of understanding that money is a gift, have an understanding of authentic happiness that goes beyond what money can buy.
The last trait I’ve witnessed in those who are happy with or without money is a deep sense of generosity ingrained in their life.
Those who are happy are those who are generous. Giving isn’t monetized. Giving is a way of life, a posture of being and a way of existing on this planet. Many people say they will give when they have more; but having more doesn’t always translate into generosity. I’ve seen people with very little share with others what little they have. I’ve also seen those with plenty give plenty. Both are amazing. The one with plenty isn’t more generous than the one with less; they both give what they have, because they want to.
Sacred Scripture highlights both ends of this spectrum. On one end you have the poor widow with two small coins. (Mark 12:42) These coins, as the passage tells us, is all she has. Jesus takes note of her generosity and points out her actions to his disciples. Jesus was not impressed by the amount (because it was very little), but He was impressed by her very act of giving the little she had. Her act touched His heart. This image is a good one for us, because it helps us not to put a amount on giving, but to understand the heart of what giving looks like.
On the other end of the spectrum you read the story of Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:2-8) Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector. History tells us that tax collectors in those days were not liked and were stingy and greedy individuals. Zacchaeus had some of those traits. Yet, he met and had a significant encounter with Jesus. What’s fascinating about Zacchaeus, is that his generosity transformed after he met Jesus. Zacchaeus became convicted in his interaction with Jesus. You could say he began to “rethink” his ways. His conversion began. In the process he reconciled with his mistakes and decided to give away “half” of his possessions. I’m certain he was “happier” by giving than he was by holding on to his things.
Who gave more, the widow or Zacchaeus? Neither, because giving isn’t about the amount, it’s about the heart. Of course Zacchaeus gave away more because he had more, but both gave generously from what they had, gifts from God.
In our quest for authentic happiness, understanding that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow isn’t the destination that we long for. What we long for is to be detached from the world and worldly things and to have a God-centered view of our time on earth that creates a generous heart. My prayer is that our attachment will be on God, and He alone will be our destination.
Let your identity be found in God!