I recently heard about a study conducted for Princeton University in 2010 by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which indicates that a person’s level of happiness rises according to his salary, up to $75K/year. Once a person makes $75K, his salary no longer impacts his day-to-day happiness. According to Kelly Blair’s Time Magazine article about the study, “For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money.” The concept that money does not buy happiness is familiar to all of us, though there are times, I am sure, when each of us has a hard time believing it. However, in general, when we think about what truly brings us happiness – the people we love, the beauty of a sunrise – we recognize that, no, we don’t need money to be happy.
That’s because money, in itself, is not a need. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of motivation which tells us that we have multiple levels of need, with the lowest (but most urgently necessary to satisfy,) being biological (i.e. food/water,) and the highest being self-actualization/self-fulfillment. In Everett T. Suters’ book Succeed In Spite Of Yourself, the author uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to point out that money is but a means to an end: “No one needs money. Money is only a satisfier of a need. I may be hungry (biological), deep in dept (need for security) and want to live in a better neighborhood (social or group acceptance). Money can satisfy these lower levels of need”.
What about the higher levels of need? How do we find self-confidence, a sense of achievement, and the pinnacle: self-actualization? If it has to do with individual temperament and life circumstances, as Kelly’s article suggests, then certainly we have some control. Now, I remember learning a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my Organizational Behavior class in grad school. My professor, Peter F. Sorensen, Jr., literally wrote the book on organizational behavior (along with some of his colleagues,) and according to that book, “Self-Actualization” is defined as: “Being all you can be, involving full use of creativity, personal and spiritual growth”. Hmmm… being all that you can be. Sounds like we’re talking about working from strengths, here.
There’s another widely used theory of motivation, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy. Herzberg’s “Motivation-Hygiene Theory” says that Maslow’s lower levels of need are “hygiene factors,” which from an employee-motivation standpoint are encompassed in the work environment but do not ultimately impact happiness, and that the upper two levels, ego and self-fulfillment, are motivating factors and have to do with the work itself. These motivating factors directly impact a person’s happiness.
According to Dr. Sorensen’s book, a central premise to Maslow’s Hierarchy is that “a satisfied need cannot serve as a source of motivation”. In other words, once you’ve got food and clothing and you’re safe and people like you, those factors cannot serve as motivation; so long as they remain fulfilled, they cannot impact happiness. So we know that, in order to motivate ourselves or others, we need to go beyond the basics; we need to surpass the happiness threshold attainable through money, and provide satisfying work that utilizes strengths and provides people with ongoing opportunity for success.
What happens once a person has achieved a healthy ego and finds her work fulfilling – does that mean she’s reached the peak of the needs heirarchy, and it’s all downhill? No. Because, according to Suters, success begets success.
Suters does a great job of defining success, breaking it down into twelve interdependent components, one of which is that “Success has an appetite which grows at the higher levels of need… at the high levels of need involving the need to feel important and the need for experiencing a sense of fulfillment, these appetites are almost insatiable”.
Therefore, the more success you achieve, the more success you need – it is a need which cannot be satisfied. Thus, success has an ongoing impact on happiness, and serves as its own source of motivation. If you are being all that you can be – being true to your authentic self and building a life, a career, a team or a company based on strengths – you will experience a constant replenishment of self-confidence and self-actualization, unhindered by a happiness threshold that maxes out at any dollar amount.