We hear it said (a lot) that money can't buy happiness. Of course, we all need money to provide food, clothing, shelter, and the necessities of life. And having money is better than not having money by almost any measurement. But how much money do we need? How do we know we have enough money? Like a lot of things in personal finance, the answer is different for everyone.

For some, the goal is to become rich. But why? Does being rich bring happiness? When making money is the goal, it often gets in the way of being happy rather than offering joy. I've said it many times in many ways that our values should guide our decisions about making money, how we spend money, and the time spent on the activities that are most important to us.

Have you ever heard anyone say to you, “I want to make money because money gives me inner peace.” Neither have I.

Don't get me wrong. We need money. Depending on where we live, some of us need a lot more than others to maintain a basic lifestyle. Thinking that money will buy us inner peace or bring happiness can get us in a lot of trouble.

The Problem

There is way too much focus on money and material things. The advertising industry and the compliant media it supports tries to convince us we need the latest new thing. They push consumerism as a way of life. It causes us to chase material things in the pursuit of happiness. We've all heard the meme that money can't buy happiness.

Is that true?

Some would argue it's much easier to be happy with money than without it. Perhaps. In my observation, though, I've seen more unhappy wealthy people than those of more modest means. I'll talk more about that in a moment.

Here are the five things listed in the original post – Health, Family, Relationships, Values, Legacy.

What follows are 16 things I think are more important than money. By the end, I think you'll agree with the original statement that money can't buy happiness. You can let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree.

Here is my list of16 Things That Are More Important Than Money

1: Health

Having financial independence and wealth won’t do us much good if we can’t enjoy it because we haven’t taken care of our health. And it seems that more and more people are ignoring this critical aspect of life. Health is money (and time) well spent.

Every time.

2: Stress

One of the significant contributors to our health problems is stress. Stress, quite literally, is killing us.

A recent article from the Mayo Clinic on Stress Management lists three areas where stress can affect us – body, mood, and behavior. There are seven effects listed for the body (like headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, etc.), six for mood (like anxiety, restlessness, sadness or depression), and six for behavior (like overeating, drug, or alcohol abuse, social anger outbursts).

chart listing common effects of stress

What can we do to deal with stress? Here’s a partial list.

  1. Slow down – Start with simple breathing exercises or meditation. Slow, deep breathing lowers your heart rate and can calm the mind. Add quiet reflection to it, and the benefits increase even more. My wife uses an app called Calm. I don’t use it, but she loves it. You may have to try a few things before settling on what works for you.
  2. Exercise – Everyone knows this helps. Don’t think you have to join a gym or buy equipment. A simple twenty to thirty-minute daily walk will help. Start with a few sit-ups and push-ups. But start somewhere. There are tons of exercise apps, YouTube channels that have anything you want to try. Search, and I’m confident you’ll find something that works.
  3. Diet – Again. It’s not complicated. You don’t have to be on some hard to follow diet whose goal is fast weight loss. Cut down the portions you eat and stay away from processed food. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water.

3: Weight

The American Cancer Society cites excess body weight as a major cause of multiple health issues affecting Americans. They say that one in three Americans is obese. Another one in three is overweight. That’s two-thirds of the country struggling with their weight.

Intellectually, we all know being overweight is not a good thing. Food is a natural elixir when we’re feeling stressed, down, or in a funk. And unlike illegal drugs and alcohol, food is an easy way to self-medicate when we’re in that funk. They don’t call it comfort food for anything.

I’m not suggesting that we’re all addicted to food. We need it to survive. What I am suggesting is that many of us may not realize the impact our diets have on our overall well-being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excess body weight increases our risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Stroke
  • Liver and gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Arthritis
  • Abnormal menstrual periods and infertility in women
  • Certain Cancers

By no means is this an extensive list. To me, stress is the number one problem with our health. It leads to numerous health issues. Self-medicating with food leads to weight problems and all the problems that come with it.

4: Family

 

toddler boy and girl holding hands with a sunset behind them

Not everyone comes from a healthy family or has healthy relationships with family members.

Statistics tell us that many marriages end in divorce. Others stress over financial and other issues. Even if it’s messy and relationships strained, it’s worth it to work on improving broken family relationships.

I don’t know of any perfect family, do you? However, we all know people who have good relationships with their families. These family relationships help us live a healthier life.

My parents divorced when I was twenty. Even at that age, it was hard. I held resentment for years after the divorce. My brother had an even harder time of it.

I found it hard to trust. My wife shares the same issue. We both brought that issue into the marriage. Because of the baggage, our first several years of marriage were hard.

In time, and through counseling, we were able to identify the issue and began to work on it together. Unresolved anger toward our parents was the culprit for both of us. Once we identified the problem, we had to figure out what to do to keep it from doing further damage. The solution was to have an awkward conversation with our parents – individually. It was one of the most challenging things either of us had ever done.

I’m proud to say that in February 2019, we will celebrate thirty-five years of marriage. The work and effort along the way are worth it.

5: Faith

My wife, Cathy, and I try to build our lives around our faith. We are Christians. I realize not everyone reading this is a Christian. That's OK. The purpose of this section is not to convince you to be a Christian. However, I hope you don't let that dissuade you from reading. I am going to tell you the role faith plays in our lives. Everyone has to make their own choices on what they believe.

I'll also offer my thoughts on the importance of faith for non-believers as well. Please, don't check out just yet.

Faith in our lives

God has carried us through incredibly difficult times, during our 35 years of marriage (2019). He's shown us favor far beyond what we ever could imagine. Prayer, Scripture, and community are all part of our Christian walk. Let me explain what it means to us to live a life of faith. It starts with a basic premise. We are sinners saved by Grace (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Grace is not something we can earn or work to achieve. By definition, it is a gift. Today, even in the Christian community, that is often misunderstood.

Scripture teaches us that no one is righteous, no not one (Romans 3: 10-12, Psalm 14: 1-2). That fact should give all Christians great humility. The picture the media often paints of Christians is that of a judgmental, arrogant, condescending group. That's Biblically and functionally inaccurate. That vast majority of believers are not that way. Are there some who fit that description Absolutely! That's no different from any other people group. Media, however, would instead paint the picture of the extremes rather than the majority. We Christians are called to be humble, to serve, to love God and others.

Even without the Christian faith, it would be hard to argue that it isn't an excellent way to live.

For non-Christians

Faith has a role for non-Christians as well. Do you have confidence in yourself? Do you have faith that you can get through challenges and be better for having endured them? Those are also acts of faith.

Having faith that things will work out for the better is a mindset. It represents an optimistic attitude. With all the negativity around us, keeping the faith and an optimistic outlook can be difficult. And the challenges we face along the way can knock us down. Faith in ourselves and understanding that adversity makes us stronger gives us the strength to persevere.

Or maybe your faith is in something other than Christianity. We have the choice to decide where we place our faith and trust. Wherever that faith lies, believing in something bigger than ourselves offers hope and encouragement during life's journey.

However, one defines it, having faith that things will work out and that we can persevere sets the tone for our lives IMO.

6: Healing

I’m so glad we made the difficult decision to do it. It changed our relationships with our parents and helped us better understand our behaviors. As a result, we repaired these broken relationships that held us back from fuller relationships with our families.

What’s the point of all this? Families are important. They are also messy. Things that happened in our families in the past shaped who we are today. That includes both the good and the bad. We learned that our parents loved us, even though we didn’t feel it at times. We learned the importance of forgiveness in repairing the brokenness.

Unresolved anger toward family members damages us far more than the offending person. We can’t control their behavior and reaction, only our own. Don’t let past hurts keep you from repairing broken relationships in your family.

I’ll leave this topic with a quote from one of our favorite television shows, Criminal Minds (don’t judge me)

“Our scars define where we’ve been. They don’t have to define who we are.” SSA Rossi (Joe Mantegna)

7: Relationships

All our relationships are meaningful. I know lots of people who claim large groups of friends. But how close are those friends? Can you talk to them about anything? Can they speak to you about anything? Or do they keep things on a surface level?

Either way is fine. We all need different kinds of relationships. We are built to be in relationships with one another. When we deny that to ourselves, it can create problems.

I have lots of friends and connections, personal and professional. I’m grateful for that. However, there is only a handful that I share my life with. And that’s all I need. These are the ones  I know I can call on any time day or night, and they will be there for me and me for them.

I’ve seen friendships broken over silly things. The political climate today and the hard-line positions some take destroys long-standing friendships. I’ve heard stories of it tearing apart families too. Digging into a particular viewpoint combined with the inability to listen to another’s view damages relationships. We seem unable or willing to consider changing the way we think about things. When we do that, our relationships suffer.

Too much shouting

Facebook seems to be taking over as the platform for political rants. It’s full of people shouting at each other. I don’t know about you, but having someone yelling their view to me doesn’t make me inclined to change mine. Quite the contrary, it makes me go the other direction. I know of a couple of friendships lost in political arguments that take place on the news feed. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me either.

So, the next time you get tempted to enter into this kind of discussion, ask yourself this question. Is digging in my heels on a position worth running a friendship? I think not. If we paused before reacting, we would all be better for it.

Developing and nurturing essential friendships will help us live a healthier life. Don’t take them for granted. We should put in the effort to keep them healthy.

8: Values

Values are foundational to the decisions we make in life. They should define how we live. Going through life without values leads to a shallow existence.

Everyone has values, whether stated or not. Your values must align with your money.

It’s even more critical that you know your purpose, your “why” in making decisions.

Another way to look at values is to look at your passions. What excites you to jump out of bed in the morning and start your day? If you can’t answer, here’s another way to ask the question.

What are you working to accomplish? Is it to get a paycheck? If so, there is no passion in that, and you will quickly become dissatisfied and hate getting out of bed and going to work.

9: Integrity

Think about your legacy. Wouldn’t one of the things you’d like people to say about you be that you were a man or woman of integrity? I know that’s one of the things I want people to say about me.

Integrity should be part of our value system. Integrity means doing things with honesty and treating people respectfully. Also, it means caring about the well-being of others. Integrity is something that everyone knows when they see it.

Conversely, it’s something everyone notices when it’s missing.

It’s easy to find people who lack integrity. They may look the part. Taking a closer look often reveals a different picture.

Integrity is what you do in the dark when no one is looking. It’s not the front you put on in the public eye. It’s certainly not the story people tell about themselves on Facebook and other social media platforms.

We need more people of integrity in government, business, education, and life. Let’s aspire to be men and women of integrity who put others' interests before our own, who operate the same way when no one is looking as we do when people are watching.

Let’s be the person who can disagree without being disagreeable; without shouting and talking over those with whom we disagree.

Let integrity be the foundation that drives our decisions.

10: Work engagement

A recent Money Watch article titled Why so many Americans hate their jobs cites a Gallup survey which shows that 2/3 of American workers “are disengaged at work, or worse.”

Another finding is that “51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.” That means that over half of those who work for employers don’t like their jobs!

If you feel trapped in your work and get your self-worth from your job, that’s a dangerous path to follow. If that describes you, think about where your passions lie. Is there another job that would be more suitable for your desires? If not, is there a way to turn your passion into a business?

Being stuck is not a fun way to live. If you are miserable in your job, it will carry over into the other parts of your life – your family, your hobbies, and other leisure activities. Take some time to pause to think about what’s important to you. If married, include your spouse in the exercise. Make a list of those values. See if what you think about, how you spend your time, and how you spend your money align with those things.

If they don’t, develop a plan to make the changes necessary to get them aligned. You’ll likely feel much better about life, improve your relationships, and lead to a happier life.

11: A legacy

Have you thought about what kind of legacy you want to leave? For the moment, let’s not talk about a financial legacy. How do you want to be remembered? What will you leave behind so that people will know?

For many parents, their legacy lives on in the lives of their children. Equipping them with an education, and passing along their values cements that legacy for many parents.

Others have a passion for a particular cause like breast cancer, helping abused children, or another worthy cause that makes people’s lives better. I know people who have composed and left behind their life’s manifesto for posterity. It’s something their kids, friends, and others can turn to for inspiration and guidance.

By definition, legacy is long-lasting. Something long-lasting takes time to plan. It takes time to develop and mold the way we desire. It has to be intentional.

Our values will shape our legacy. They define who we are and should guide our decisions in every area of our lives.

Of course, if someone has wealth and wants to leave a financial legacy that represents those values, then, by all means, use the money for that purpose. Build a wing on a children’s hospital. Set up a scholarship fund for kids who can’t afford to go on their own.

12: Donor-advised funds

Funding a wing on a children’s hospital is out of reach for most of us. Consider a donor-advised fund that you can contribute to regularly. The funds allow you to donate small amounts of money at regular intervals to build up a fund over time. When you’re ready to give, you can have them send the money to the charity of your choice.

Public foundations,  many universities, and community foundations offer donor-advised funds. Most mutual fund companies now offer them too. A recent article from Drew ad FI Introvert does an excellent job of describing the ins and out of these funds.

You don’t have to be wealthy to leave a meaningful, lasting legacy to the next generation. You do have to think about and plan for how you want people to remember you.

13: Contentment

Do you see that we’re running on a continuum here? If we focus on staying healthy, nurture relationships with family and friends, spend our time wisely, continue learning, and build our legacy, our self-worth will improve, leading to a life of contentment.

Money is a pivotal part of the journey. Money is a means to an end. If it becomes more than that, we’re in trouble. If getting more of it is the goal, it could get in the way of our having good relationships, eating right, or exercising.

What we value guides us to our end game. That journey leaves our legacy. If we are working on all of these areas, we will find contentment. Paul, writing from a prison cell, tells us in Scripture, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, but I have learned in whatever situation I'm in to be content” (Philippians 4:11). He said this from a prison cell. Trust me, first-century prison cells for Christians were not pleasant. In some instances, prison officers beat Paul almost to the point of death. He often wore shackles on his legs and arms.

Once again, whether you believe Scripture or not, the lessons are applicable. When I read this verse, I ask myself, would I be content? Would I have that kind of a positive attitude? If I'm honest, I'd have to say heck no. I'd likely be crying like a baby or screaming for someone to get me out!

14: No worries?

Does being content mean we won’t worry? Of course not. Will we meet adversity and challenges along the way? Absolutely. That’s all part of the process. How we deal with adversity shapes who we are.

Contentment doesn’t come from having stuff. Stuff is not fulfilling. It’s temporal. And there will always be someone who has more or better possessions. That brings us back to an earlier point. If accumulating money and stuff is the goal, it’s a rare instance that brings contentment

Contentment comes from within each of us. It's a choice not to let our external circumstances, most of which are outside our control, dictate how we react. It's a state of mind we would all be better off pursuing, me at the top of that list.

15: Education

In today’s competitive world, it seems education is more important than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate in January 2017 was 2.5% for college grads and 7.7% for high school dropouts. For people with some college or an associate degree, the unemployment rate was 3.8%.

chart showing unemployment rates

Right now, some of you are thinking, “Isn't the focus of the post on things more important than money? Why are you bringing up employment statistics”?

Simple. We need money to survive. We have to have food, shelter, clothing, and the basics of life. That takes money.

To provide for ourselves, we need to work. The cost of living can vary dramatically based on where we live. Having a job that pays a living wage is vital to us financially and in many other ways.

Being able to provide for ourselves builds self-esteem. Education is an important starting point for self-esteem. When we have self-esteem, we build confidence. Confidence improves our chances of being successful.

A good education improves our critical thinking. When we can think critically, it helps us make better decisions. Better decisions lead to better outcomes.

And education shouldn’t stop when we finish school. The internet provides the opportunity to consume more content than ever. We can read books on our tablets. We can even get our degrees online now if we so choose.

Anyone can be successful with or without a degree. However, better-paying jobs favor those with an education. That can be an undergrad, masters, or a skill-specific technical knowledge. Whatever form it takes, the better educated we are, the more opportunities we will have.

Education comes in a lot of forms. Take advantage of it in whatever way that suits you. And never stop learning.

16: Time

Man, oh man is the issue of time a big one these days. Does it ever seem we have enough of it? Don't we always seem to run out of time?

We Americans seem to pride ourselves on being busy. We work more extended hours and spend less time on leisure activities than almost any other developed country. Most married households have both spouses working full-time.

If there are children, parents shuttle them from soccer practice and games to swimming to lacrosse, to basketball, and any number of other activities.

We have some close friends who help their granddaughter excel in dance. They have traveled all over the country with her. She practices multiple times a week and has some competitions most weekends.

I love that they’re doing this for her. I worry about balance.

Even those who are younger and single strive to get to the top level of their jobs. Alternatively, they aim to gain financial freedom to allow themselves the opportunity to leave those jobs to do their own thing.

That’s all well and good. But at what cost? Is financial freedom, having your kids be the best at multiple activities or climbing the corporate ladder worth not living today?

Putting stress on ourselves and our kids can damage both the parents and the kids. Balance is hard. It's also essential. It’s something I wish more of us could find.

Final thoughts

Like anything we read, there are things we will agree with and some things we won't. I promised when I started Money with a Purpose that I would be transparent and honest in my writing. I hope that's what these two posts do. Your list of ten things may be different than mine.

That's perfectly fine.

I never expect everyone to agree with anything I write. I value the comments and feedback I get from readers who disagree. Healthy discussion around topics of disagreement makes life better IMHO.

As I've said many times, if we would get back to the place where we could disagree with one another without being disagreeable, the world would be a better place.

Call me an idealist or naive, but I believe that's an achievable goal we build one relationship at a time.