There isn’t much point in being envious of someone earning millions of dollars a year who isn’t any happier than the rest of us. I recently reported on research that suggested avoiding debt is an important component in whether earning more money leads to more happiness. This supplements previous research that shows increasing one’s income to around $75,000 a year does increase happiness.
Of course, income and debt levels aren’t the only job-related factors that can significantly affect our happiness. Besides earning more money, there are other things we can do to foster both financial and emotional health. Here are just two of them.
One bit of research suggests the unhappiest portion of the day for many people is their daily commute. People in heavily populated areas can spend 1-3 hours a day commuting. Obviously, one of the best ways to increase your happiness is to shorten a long commute.
The obvious way to accomplish this is to move closer to your work. If your work is near the costly real estate of a big city center, however, your living costs would skyrocket. Many workers have solved this problem by moving their work closer to them. That could mean finding a new job closer to home or moving your job into your home. An increasing number of employers allow employees to work from home part-time and even full-time. If your current employer isn’t one of them, perhaps you can find another company that’s more flexible.
Maybe the best option, however, is to move to Rapid City, SD, where a long commute is 20 minutes and means you live “out of town.” Thirteen years ago I did just the opposite and extended my commute from three minutes to 11 minutes by moving to the outskirts of town. I agonized for a few weeks, but eventually got used to the extra eight minutes, which were filled with talking to my children when I took them to school in the morning and being entertained listening to Tom Hartman on my drive home.
Another way to increase your happiness is to do work that fulfills you and which you are passionate about. It’s really hard to be unhappy when we are playing and having fun. I’ve often thought that one of the Beatitudes ought to have been, “blessed are those who have jobs they love and find fun.” Based on my experience, most Americans are not fortunate enough to be doing work they love and find fun. Making a good income doing something that feels like play is an amazing blessing.
Two times in life especially lend themselves to aligning your work with your passion. The first one is when you are young and free from the pressures of providing for a family. Career changes are made more easily and lifestyles are typically less demanding, which allows for more risk-taking. The biggest downside is that it isn’t easy knowing what your real passion is during the first half of life.
The second period is when you are older, really know what your passion is, and have the financial independence to do it. Unfortunately, this period of life is often called “retirement.” If you do work you don’t care about for decades in order to follow your passion in retirement, you risk not having the health or other resources to fulfill your dreams when the time comes.
It’s worthwhile to spend time in early adulthood pondering and exploring to discover what work feels like play for you. Often, work you care deeply about can lead to more income as well as more job satisfaction—doubly increasing your happiness.