Making Money, Making Happiness

By Nat Eliason in Psychology

Published or Updated on Jan 18, 2020

The first time I was paid for something I made was Senior year of college. I started this blog to create a writing portfolio, and then contacted Zapier to see if I could do freelance writing for them.

They gave me a shot, and I sold them my first freelance article for $150.

I distinctly remember the feeling of being paid for that article. I only had seven months till graduation, and that payment was reassurance that if I didn't find a job I liked, I could write freelance articles until I figured it out.

I also remember how different it felt from my summer internship. I'd worked as a management consultant within a government contractor for three months, which really meant I spent 6 hours a day on my kindle, 2 hours a day working. Getting a paycheck for Bullshit Work wasn’t satisfying. Getting paid for something I made was joyous.

This is the limitation to the idea "money won't make you happy." Having money is unlikely to make you happy. But earning money can make you very happy. Depending on how you get it. 

Most people haven't had the experience of creating something and being paid for it. But anyone who has knows the feeling. It is distinct from receiving a salary. A salary is a baseline. It's expected. You're not surprised or elated when it shows up, but you're very stressed when it doesn't. And it doesn't feel entirely connected to your work. You do work, and you get a salary, but there’s no direct exchange between the two.

Getting paid for something you made or did is a different experience. It's a sense of elation from someone valuing what you do enough to part with money they could spend on anything else in the world.

The rules are strange, though. Every new client at Growth Machine is still a hit of joy. The $3 from a customer in the cafe brings significantly more happiness than the gains in my IRA. The amounts are dramatically different, but that doesn't matter. Happiness and money have little to do with the specific amount of money, and everything to do with how you get it.

The problem isn’t that we derive too much of our worth and value from work. The problem is that our jobs are becoming increasingly abstracted from work. - Rusy Guinn, Epsilon Theory

The closer you are to making something, exchanging it with someone for money, and seeing their satisfaction, the greater the happiness effect of each dollar earned.

Some people are fortunate enough to have their primary source of money and their meaningful one be the same. But for most people they aren't, and that's fine. 

To feel good about your work, and for making money to make you happy, find something you enjoy doing that other people value.


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