More Money or More Love

In a classic song by Simply Red, they sing the words “Money’s too tight to mention,” and at the moment, I realise it is a truism to say during this global pandemic and economic meltdown that many people are doing it tough.

For many, money might be too tight to mention. Unemployment rates are at an all time high since the great depression.

Without work it’s not only people’s wallets that take a serious hit, for many, their sense of self-esteem and overall sense of life-satisfaction can also take a serious hit.

Shifting the lens from money to love

However, and I’m not trying to sugar coat this, let’s shift the lens slightly here.

What we know from a vast range of evidence-based research is this: People in low socio-economic countries report levels of life satisfaction and happiness that are at least equal to and sometimes higher than people in wealthier countries.

Now, I want to be clear here. I am not buying into the often-quoted misconception that money can’t buy you happiness. I’ve been relatively rich, and I’ve been relatively poor. I choose rich over poor any day of the week.

However, while I choose rich over poor, what I also know is this: Science validates that whether I am rich or poor, there are important contributing elements that will determine my overall sense of life-satisfaction and wellbeing.

For almost a decade now, I’ve been researching what other academic researchers in the field of applied positive psychology have discovered as contributing elements to our overall sense of well-being and life satisfaction.

Not surprisingly, different researchers focus their attention on different contributing elements to living a ‘good’ life.

For example:

  • Carol Ryff identified six factors: self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth.1
  • Martin Seligman identified five factors: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and acceptance.2
  • Richard Ryan and Edward Deci identified three factors: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.3
  • Tom Rath and Jim Harter identified five factors: career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and community wellbeing.4
  • Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria identified five factors: our drives to acquire, bond, learn, and defend.5

We can add to the list other elements across a range of academic, psychological, and philosophical fields such as our sense of curiosity, willpower, mindfulness, gratitude, integrity, trust, virtues, values, and character strengths … and I’m sure you could think of others.

So where does this leave us, when different researchers claim different elements contribute to our sense of flourishing, and some of them will have more impact than others?

Relationships Matter!

Based on all I have researched on the topic of life satisfaction, subjective wellbeing and positive psychology, it is very clear to me that the most common thread of all the abovementioned contributing elements to our sense of flourishing in life is our relationships.

Put simply, when we shift the lens through which we look at our lives to focus on what we give to and what we receive from our relationships, life can almost immediately, at least in that moment, become more meaningful.

This is beautifully summed up by the words of Dr Viktor Frankl who, reflecting on what helped him survive through detention in Nazi concentration camps during the 2nd world war, wrote this in his best-selling book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’:

“The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved”.

Frankl reminds us of the power of mindfully contemplating and being grateful for our relationships. By taking a moment to shift our lens from all else that is going on in our professional and personal lives, we realise the disruptive and difficult stuff that can be going in our lives can pale into insignificance – at least while we hold our focus on our relationships.

In disruptive, difficult and challenging times like many of us are facing during this Pandemic, (and please, I’m not for a moment comparing it to being detained in a concentration camp), it can be easy for us to unintentionally start taking our relationships for granted.

The problem is, when we take things for granted, we devalue them … and if we take our relationships for granted, and we devalue them, we are devaluing the very thing that science tells us is one of, if not the most important contributing element for us to flourish in our professional and personal lives.

I reckon now is a great time to be reminded (as I’m reminding myself) of the importance of our relationships.

So, while more money might be nice to have, investing some more time to be a little more kind, to love a little more, and to be grateful for the relationships we have in our lives, might just be what you, me and the rest of the world needs right now.

  1. Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). ‘The structure of psychological wellbeing revisited’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 719-727.
  2. Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and wellbeing – and how to achieve them. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, UK.
  3. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. The Guilford Press, New York, NY.
  4. Rath, T., & Harter, J. (2010). Wellbeing: The five essential elements. Gallup Press, New York, NY.
  5. Lawrence, P. R., & Nitin, N. (2002). Driven: How human nature shapes our choices. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
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