Personal Development

The 3 Critical Elements of Human Happiness (& Why Unlimited Money Isn’t Enough)

Expertise: Personal Finance, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
38 Articles Written
investment philosophy, investing goals

Imagine you leave behind everything you know and everyone you love to cross the ocean. You arrived weary and penniless, but this new land provides the one thing you needed: an opportunity—a rugged and dangerous road to follow for a chance to give your children the option to pursue what you couldn’t. You set your sights ahead and persevere despite the exhaustion, the humiliation, the challenges.

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The story of America is a story of pursuit: a massive mosaic where millions of immigrant stories like these are welded together with sacrifice and purpose. The details may vary, but the plot is the same. We set goals and we chase after them until we achieve them or drop dead, whichever comes first. Then, once achieved, we set another goal. And another. We can’t help it—it’s in our DNA.

Money Goals

Fast forward to modern day America. It’s a time of abundance like no other in human history. Since most everyone’s basic needs (food, shelter, safety, social media :)) are generally met, you set money goals. You want to earn an income of X or build your savings and investments to Y or retire and live off a passive income stream of Z.

Why do we set such goals? So we can live the lifestyle we want, spend more time with our families and loved ones, and achieve financial independence. In short, so we can be happy. Therefore, we view money as the means to achieve happiness. In other words, we don’t seek money for money’s sake but rather for what it can do to bring about the things that make us happy. With me so far?

Related: Beyond Cash Flow: How I Used Investing to Buy Real Estate in My “Happy Place”

Now, suppose I wave my favorite magic wand and everyone has in their bank account an inexhaustible amount of money, effective immediately. Now you possess all the money you could ever need to do, buy, experience everything you could ever want.

Financial independence has been achieved. You can spend all day with your family or loved ones if you choose, and you can travel to all those dream places and stay as long as you like.

Are you happy? Initially, yes. Unlimited money would be pretty cool. But once the initial euphoria and binge purchases and travel have subsided, most of us would be bored out of our minds. Perhaps we’d even be depressed and lonely like the original founder of Minecraft, who sold the company to Microsoft for billions.

At first glance, this doesn’t make any sense. The average American adult spends the majority of their waking hours in pursuit of money so they can have the kind of lifestyle that will make them happy. Now they have achieved that lifestyle and they’re still unhappy? Something is missing.

Pursuit is Missing

We have an impetus to succeed, but we need to feel that we earned the success, that it wasn’t handed out to us undeservedly but was pursued and attained. Put differently, if we want to be happy, we must pursue and achieve our lifestyle goals. Sounds like common sense—but is that really true?

In 2011, Bronnie Ware wrote The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, a book based on her firsthand experiences as a palliative care nurse. The regrets are summarized here:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

If pursuit and attainment are the keys to happiness, then why do successful people regret their pursuit on their deathbed (#2)? Most importantly, why are they identifying the pursuit as one of the ingredients that lead to an unhappy life (#5)?

Yet again, something is missing.

Connection is Missing

As Dr. Henry Cloud explains in his excellent leadership book Boundaries for Leaders, “There are two human drives. One is connection and the other is aggression. Aggression here […] means initiative and energy, used in the service of goals. Everything we do is either relational or goal directed—or, ideally, both. Basically we are ‘lovers and workers.’ We have relationships and we do things. We connect and we accomplish tasks. Care and drive. Be and do. Love and work.”

Related: 6 Major Reasons to Invest in Real Estate (& How to Invest With Purpose!)

Yes! We have a need to accomplish, to push past obstacles and then attain the goal. To us, the pursuit is not just a means to an end—it’s an end in itself. Without it, we are rich but miserable, financially independent but bored, well-traveled but depressed.

But what’s also true is that the lifestyle we seek is a conduit to the connection we crave. All the names we give it (financial independence, more time with the family, travel) are the framework for the connection we seek with our loved ones. For instance, experiences (i.e travel) are fun but they only becomes soul-enriching when you share them with people you love. Wealth is great, but it will own you unless you have a clearly defined purpose for its accumulation. Passive income is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s of no use if it’s just funding a dreary life.

If we are to be happy we must balance and integrate our drives for connection and pursuit. We must anchor our love of the chase to the reasons we chase in the first place: work and family, success and friends, income and lifestyle.

But is that all? Could you be successful in your work and well grounded in the connections that matter to you most and still have something that eats you up inside? Unequivocally, yes. Yet again, something is missing.

landlord-lessons

Fulfillment is Missing

In his cornerstone 1943 paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Abraham Maslow outlined his famous hierarchy of human needs.

Essentially, it’s a stacked progression. Once we fulfill our basic needs for food, water, shelter, safety and security (pursuit), we need to fulfill our psychological needs for relationships and friends, prestige, and accomplishment (connection). But there’s one major missing piece: self-actualization. In other words, in order to feel completely happy, we need to achieve our full potential and capitalize on our talents.

Turns out Calogero had it exactly right in the famous scene from A Bronx Tale: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.”

Do you agree with this assessment of happiness?

Be sure to leave a comment below!

Erion Shehaj helps successful professionals achieve financial independence using the Blueprint Real Estate Investing™ strategy. By combining the principles of robust financial planning with quality real estate investments, Erion shows ordinary people how to replace their salary with passive income and retire early to live life on their terms. Over his real estate career of 13+ years, Erion has helped his investor clients purchase $90M+ in real estate assets to build robust real estate portfolios and streams of passive income. In addition, Erion has been involved in successfully rolling out small multifamily new construction projects across Texas. Erion has written extensively about long term real estate investing and business in several publications like BiggerPockets (since 2013), Investing Architect, American Genius, Geek Estate and more.

    Peter Mckernan Residential Real Estate Agent from Newport Beach, California
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I have to say yes that it is really about living up to your potential. As Tony Robbins says, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” The quote you pulled at the end is one of my favorite quotes and movies! Great article!
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Thanks for reading Peter. In the vein of the TR quote, I like a line from that rap philosopher Jay-Z: Life is all about progression, loiterers should be arrested 🙂
    Hernan
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Life is a fight. Every day you fight to improve yourself and your circumstances.
    Hernan
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Life is a fight. Every day you fight to improve yourself and your circumstances.
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Hernan I find it absolutely fascinating that the frame we place around life, impacts our actions and direction so much. i.e. Life is a Fight, or Life is a Game.
    Albi Kociu from Hillsdale, New Jersey
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Man, you absolutely nailed this. I was familiar with Maslow’s pyramid , but you articulated this very well. Props bro (and you’re Albanian, too!) My favorite part: “But what’s also true is that the lifestyle we seek is a conduit to the connection we crave. All the names we give it (financial independence, more time with the family, travel) are the framework for the connection we seek with our loved ones. For instance, experiences (i.e travel) are fun but they only becomes soul-enriching when you share them with people you love. Wealth is great, but it will own you unless you have a clearly defined purpose for its accumulation. Passive income is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s of no use if it’s just funding a dreary life.”
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Albi, shume falemnderit. 🙂
    Fadel Shamm Investor from Lexington, Kentucky
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Well written.
    Tyler Parish Investor from Newcastle, Ontario
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I love it! Self actualization is key to happiness. We have to be growing to be fulfilled. Once our pursuit isn’t for money we should switch it to keep meaning in our life. Also a great book on this is “mans search for meaning – victor frankl”. This book opened my eyes. Great article.
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is one of my all-time favorites as well.
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is one of my all-time favorites as well. Reply Report comment
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is one of my all-time favorites as well.
    Tyler Parish Investor from Newcastle, Ontario
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I love it! Self actualization is key to happiness. We have to be growing to be fulfilled. Once our pursuit isn’t for money we should switch it to keep meaning in our life. Also a great book on this is “mans search for meaning – victor frankl”. This book opened my eyes. Great article.
    John C. Investor from New York, NY
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Gave me lots to reflect on. Thanks! For me, I think it’s the journey with my wife that gives it meaning and purpose. It’s a game, and we’re playing it together. And the money is nice, of course.
    Kris Patel Investor from Arroyo Grande, California
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Achieved first two, now on to the Third one. Started to read books by Victor frank and Eckhart Tolle. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Erion Shehaj Real Estate Broker from Houston, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Kris – congratulations! The third part is the most challenging but also the most exhilarating
    Kris Patel Investor from Arroyo Grande, California
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Thanks, will try to hang in there and get evolved. Reply Report comment
    Kris Patel Investor from Arroyo Grande, California
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Thanks, will try to hang in there and get evolved.
    Michael Woodward Real Estate Investor from Greenback, Tennessee
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Very insightful and thought-provoking! Thanks for the article Erion!
    Deny D. Ritz
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Thanks for the article, Erion. In my opinion, whoever does research on happiness is not necessarily happy themselves, right? That may create a bias in the result of the research and therefore leave some things missing. It seems to me that happiness is simply a choice: you either be happy, regardless of condition, or you’re not, regardless of condition. A poor kid living in the slums can be happier than a healthy, wealthy man surrounded by family and accomplishments. Maybe all the effort and research is an attempt to subtract everything unnecessary to simply be happy.
    Deny D. Ritz
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Thanks for the article, Erion. In my opinion, whoever does research on happiness is not necessarily happy themselves, right? That may create a bias in the result of the research and therefore leave some things missing. It seems to me that happiness is simply a choice: you either be happy, regardless of condition, or you’re not, regardless of condition. A poor kid living in the slums can be happier than a healthy, wealthy man surrounded by family and accomplishments. Maybe all the effort and research is an attempt to subtract everything unnecessary to simply be happy.