Career Advice

More Money Not Key to Happiness

Disclaimer: This post is just purely career advice for anyone starting out in their respective fields, whatever that may be …. I’ve experienced all of this personally and am merely sharing some things I think will make you happier and more successful in your work.


I was reading this article on how to find the job you’ll love … and it’s loaded with great advice, but no. 4 really got me: “Ignore salary.”

As an employer, I want to pay our team well … I want them to be paid comparable to what their skills, commitment and their colleagues make. But we don’t just hand out money or raises or bonuses because they believe they deserve it … they, along with myself, have to earn it.

In general, and not just as an employer and boss, I’ve observed that some people think they are worth more salary-wise than they truly are. Just because you think you could make more money in another job doesn’t mean you’re willing to make the sacrifices and effort necessarily to do so.

The ones in this camp are the ones I’m aiming this post at.

They are the ones who will never make enough to satisfy their need for “more money.” They will generally flame out and leave their jobs. Or worse, get bitter because their unrealistic dreams don’t make their paycheck. They are perpetually unhappy and it has drastic ripple effects on teams and companies.

Yes, you need to make sure you and your family can put food on the table and pay your bills. But I love this post by Penelope Trunk (one of my favorite career advice bloggers) that says you need around $40K a year to be truly happy. (Of course it was written a couple of years ago, but generally, it still resonates.)

Live within your means — I really struggle with people who live in America and can’t make it on very decent or even “average” wages. The root of this is typically a skewed perspective on status. They think they deserve to live a richer lifestyle, and I’ve been guilty of it as well. But some of the happiest times in my marriage have been the times when we made the least … when we had one income, lived in an apartment and were extremely frugal with our money. We simply found some creative ways to enjoy and focus on each other. But even then, we lived a quality of life that millions of people around the globe only dream about.

Focus on quality of life — This is why I love living in Oklahoma. My money and salary go a lot further. Penelope moved to Wisconsin for a similar reason: quality of life. As I’ve traveled I’ve wondered how people in San Francisco or Boston make a living. I believed with enough commitment and work I could climb the latter at different organizations and make a lot of money. But I never wanted to make the sacrifices in my quality of life to get there. Confession: In the last couple of months, I’ve had to really assess my quality of life and ask myself, ‘Am I having fun?’ It’s not worth it if I’m not having fun. Trust me. I want to enjoy my work or else it’s simply a prison.

Find awesome work you’re passionate about — if you hate your work, you better be paid handsomely. But your paycheck is payment for pain and suffering and enduring your work, not enjoying it. If you love your work, you’ll generally be content with your pay and … yes, the money will come. Happy, passionate people are a joy to work with … and they do accomplish more. Everyone wins. Some on our team could be making substantially more than what they are making now. But we’ve tried to create an environment where it doesn’t matter because they love what they do and they cherish the environment we provide …. to me, and maybe I’m biased, that’s priceless. Some have turned down better offers to work here because of it.

Yes, you should be paid fairly — and by this I mean comparable to other colleagues and being reasonable about salary expectations. You have to be realistic. If you really want to earn twice what you’re paid, count the cost of what it’d take to achieve that. I don’t know about you but my happiness is worth more than simply twice my salary. Employers should pay their employees fairly and adequately. One value I treasure and repeat often is … those who invest themselves in our business and team will be rewarded. I don’t know exactly how that shakes out. It’s not always money. Often it’s me buying their lunch … or just a verbal word of encouragement … Or recognizing and giving them credit for their work publicly … or sending them on a fun, productive business trip.

If you aren’t happy, change it — I remember a coworker from one of my first jobs out of college. This coworker was habitually unhappy. No one wanted to be around her. I realized she had been working this job longer than I had been alive. She was stuck. In a rut with nowhere else to go. I vowed from that time forward to always enjoy my work or change it. Go somewhere else. But don’t get bitter. You’ll look at yourself in the mirror … and hate yourself. And when you look around you, no one will be there because no one wants to be around bitter people. If you don’t like what you’re doing, do everybody a favor and CHANGE IT.

Conclusion: More money is never the key to happiness. Just ask any miserable “6 figure salaried” person you thought of when reading this.

OK … just my two pennies worth.

13 replies on “More Money Not Key to Happiness”

Good post with sage advice.

When I was younger, I would hear about people at other shops, how much they would work, and the amount of money they would make, and how they would do this until they burned out, and think “well, I’d like a shot at that”. After all, I was young, and not making much more than minimum wage.

Now, I’m a bit older. I put in my time, and am at the top of my scale. Now what do I want? Something less stressful and less time consuming. Something more fun and more rewarding; And the kicker? I’d take less money to do it. Time and experience have a funny way of teaching you things.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about ‘success’ and what it means to me. I haven’t worked out the exact answer yet, but this is part of my definition:

“Success isn’t about the money. Money needs to be treated as a *side effect* of success, which needs to be managed. If not managed properly, the *side effect* may steal your success completely.”


Wow, Scott, thanks for sharing!

How true that is!

I always tended to look at the long view and envision how things would work out if I went Path A or Path B.

Life is too short to be miserable. When I left college I was making $10 an hour as an intern for a powerful, connected nonprofit in the oil and gas industry. I could have leveraged those connections to build a great career. But I choose to work in a newspaper and took a paycut.

I was much happier. And have no regrets.

We Americans have grown so focused on wealth and it’s made us unhappy and, with the recent economic events, look dumb.

I’m a simple guy … I have pretty much all I need. A wife who adores me and is my best friend … and now our business takes care of my book addiction. πŸ™‚

What do you really need to be happy?

Nice post.

“I want to enjoy my work or else it’s simply a prison.”

If I enjoy my work, it takes less money for me to be happy with life in general.

Ron, I wish we could instill that philosophy in more people … although I always need a good reminder of it myself.

This philosophy of enjoying your work leading to enjoying your life and an attitude of financial contentment is the reason I love working for iThemes.

I feel rewarded every day just by working with a great group of people. Salary is a bonus.

Thanks for creating an environment that makes work not so much like work.

Sounds cheesy when I read back over it, but it’s true.

Brad, that’s exactly why we hired you. You fit in perfectly. You are a young man with a bright future ahead because of your attitude coupled with some great and ever growing creative talent. But honestly as talented as you are we wanted you because of your spirit.

I hope to be a part of your life and wok for a long long time. πŸ™‚

Hey Cory,

Nice to meet ya,I just found your blog from Micheal’s blog, There was a funny tee shirt post from Ithemes (my blog will beat up your blog), but anyway…

Ya, I just wanted to chime in and say you’re right, if you do not do what you love and if your all about the money, you will not be happy and most of the time fail. Well, that’s how I see it,

You need to have the spirit born inside of you for this madness on the web, oh so to often have I tried to teach friends, family etc, to only see months later that they have given up or are just relaxing with the money they are making off the web and don’t want to go any further……

But as for success, what does it mean? That’s what tons of people always ask….you know what success is?

Its failing over and over and over ONLY to pick yourself up again and to keep on going.

When I started on the web in 2001 I was clueless, broke, and had a huge road in front of me, years later ( 9 years ), I live totally comfortable from the internet and LOVE what I do, which is write, teach, build, and all sorts of other geeky stuff πŸ™‚

So anyhow, I kinda ranted in 5 directions here, but I do appreciate a good blog post and always feel the need to comment and say hello when I can…

BTW – Are you behind that “My blog will beat up your blog” tee shirt?

That shirt was greeaaatt!!!

Thanks for listening !



Another thought provoking post.

Too often, our hearts our (mis)led by greed. Yeah, I know that is a harsh word, but we are all tempted by it, either consciously or unconsciously. I will admit that I have been bitten by it more times than I’d like to count. I hope I am getting better at avoiding it now with a few more years under my belt.

Your post reminded me of something I read a few years ago in Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. In the book the author described the pattern that is set by two human emotions: fear and greed. “First, the fear of being without money motivates us to work hard, and then once we get that paycheck, greed or desire starts us thinking about all the wonderful things money can buy. The pattern is set…get up, go to work, pay bills, get up, go to work pay bill…Offer them more money, and they continue the cycle by also increasing their spending.” Ultimately, this spiral becomes the trap of a huge mortgage, multiple car payments, and expensive toys. All this stuff becomes a huge burden for the individual who now finds him- or herself in a job they hate but one they cannot leave for fear of defaulting on the debts and obligations they have.

Though, I don’t like to admit being one of your “older” readers, I can certainly attest to what Kiyosaki wrote. I know he isn’t the first (or the last) to describe this phenomenon, but I know when I read his book (about six years ago) it was at a time in my life when I needed to “hear those words”. It helped me see some things that I needed be made aware of, and prompted me to make a few adjustments in my life. I am still not where I want to be but I think my trap is much more “escape-able” today, than what it would be had I not read those words.

It all comes down to doing what you love with people that you like and respect – that’s what brings true joy.


– Bruce

Bruce, thanks for this … it’s spot on.

Knowing your personal story hits this home even more.

Recently, a pastor friend of mine challenged me that I was doing the good things … but maybe not the right things.

I know you and I share a mutual faith in Jesus Christ … and the point he made was … the good things or goals were “providing for my family financially” …. and I had gotten caught up in that goal – like an obsession as I do with most things I focus on – and that things had gotten misaligned and out of balance in my life.

The right things for me are … providing for my family, not just financially, but being there for them (presence). Doing my best and letting God figure out the rest.

Anyway … always appreciate your comments, Bruce!

My husband and I live well. And we do it living BELOW our means. That means we have that cushion set aside for a rainy day.

Having no debt other than our mortgage has allowed me to work from home without worrying about having to earn a specific amount. While it’s not that big of a deal now that my kids are teenagers, it was a huge deal when my kids were babies, and even when they were in elementary school. (Hubby stayed home for a few years and I worked outside during his transition from Navy life to becoming an elementary school teacher.)

I’ve been trying to teach my boys that it isn’t about the money. It’s about doing what you love. That’s one thing that all of my customers continually comment on: I am passionate about what I do.

BTW, looking forward to meeting you next month at WordCamp Raleigh.

Valerie, it’s definitely all about living below your means. My wife Jennifer and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and it changed our life for the better.

We wanted freedom …. and living like you’ve suggested allows that. It’s so nice having choices and not being a slave to debt!

BTW – ditto re: Raleigh!


You’ve mentioned this topic a few times both at ithemesTV and here on the blog. So I know it must be a key issue and it’s something all business owners fret over: How to keep people employed/paid and happy simultaneously.

As a business owner, I can tell you that a key frustration is an employee who asks for better compensation both verbally and non-verbally and yet they continually talk about how expensive things are: code for how in debt they’ve become. I refuse to participate in rewarding poor financial decisions by further enabling that behavior with raises to throw them a financial-life-preserver.

Another frustration is staff that talk about “industry standards” when their examples they point to are businesses that are now bankrupt, imploded or otherwise out of business.

One staff member in massive debt resented my open discussion about the real estate market and credit markets approaching an enormous correction. Rather than heed the advice to stay out, they ended up purchasing anyway. The rest is history.

I drive a 16 yr old minivan with 228,000 miles on it. They drove a BMW.

As you build your community, stay humble and live frugally. It pays big time.

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