At age 25, would you pursue a well-paying corporate job that makes you unhappy or a hobby that makes you happy but has no guarantee to pay the bills? originally appeared on Quora -- the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer, on Quora, by Michael Kubler, who works at Internode:

I'm going to start with some of the interesting science around happiness to ensure your understanding of its relationship with earned income is actually correct.

Peoples' levels of happiness only increase as income increases up to a point, after which there are reduced benefits to happiness as you increase your income. This number is probably smaller than you think, although it depends on where you live, but it is usually between $60,000 and $80,000.

I'll explain this with some examples.

  • Imagine you are only earning $8,000 a year. You will barely be able to afford food, let alone shelter, and you will likely be very stressed or living off other people by scavenging.
  • Now imagine you are earning $80,000 a year. You can afford a house, a car, to go out, have nice dinners, and gather some savings so you can afford medical bills or travel. You can also woo your next woman (or man) or enjoy time with your current one.
  • But now imagine you earn $800,000 a year. Your house might be bigger and you might fly first class instead of economy, but you are doing basically the same things as before but are working a lot harder and don't have as much time to spend with friends and family. Also, the sex isn't really going to get any better just because you have more money.
  • Now, earning $8 million a year, or $80 million a year, is pretty unlikely, and it's also an absurd amount of money usually acquired by making money with money, not from actually working harder or contributing more to society.

A great summary of the research for the link between happiness and money is available here. 

If you want to increase your happiness levels, then be altruistic. Help other people. This is one of the interesting findings of research in positive psychology.

Most people actually think of pleasure, not happiness. They think of the pleasure of eating an ice cream or of going to the movies. But your happiness from these activities looks very much like a square wave. You are happy during the event, but half an hour later it has very little effect on your current state of happiness.

However, humans are wired for helping others. We get a nice long tail of happiness: Days later, you can close your eyes and get a warm, happy feeling as you remember helping your friend with something that mattered to him or her. Either that or you've just peed yourself.

But don't listen to me. Listen to Dr. Martin Seligman, the creator of positive psychology and the PERMA principles.

Video: Martin Seligman at St. Peter's College

The above video is fairly long, so you might be interested instead in a TED Talk by Shawn Achor in which he talks more specifically about work and happiness and how you can only predict 10 percent of peoples' happiness level by knowing their environment. That is to say, 90 percent of your long-term happiness is determined by how you think, not how much money you have or where you live.

TLDR: Working harder to make yourself more successful won't make you happier.

So, if you are keeping up: Your level of happiness is far more related to your mindset than your salary, unless you are really dirt poor.

Motivation, specifically intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, is what the last bit of science is about. Extrinsic motivation is about the carrot and stick mentality, or rewards and punishment. Usually money is the reward (although note that it is both a motivator and a stressor). Intrinsic motivation is about doing things because you love them and is based on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Autonomy - Having a choice over what you are doing, the people you are working with, or when you are working.
  • Mastery - Working on a challenge that is just outside your current skill level, causing you to level up to complete it.
  • Purpose - Working on something of importance. Working for money isn't purpose, but working on things that better humanity, or that will help your friends and family, certainly are.

You can learn more by checking out Dan Pink's work. I consider his TED Talk required watching, and I enjoyed reading his book Drive.

This is where the science stops and my personal views start.

I have changed my mindset by changing my definition of success. If you look at the western definition of success, it is about how much financial and material wealth, power, control, or fame you have acquired.

My definition of success is about how much I have contributed to humanity and the environment (and animals).

The vision I have is of a future where the necessities of life are available for free to everyone on the planet: food, water, shelter, electricity, transport, education, entertainment, health care, and more. I rate my success by how much I am contributing to such a future, although thankfully there are entire movements with hundreds of thousands of people who are pushing for similar things (e.g., the Zeitgeist Movement).

The above probably sounds somewhat ambitious, but having a big dream and passion can be important and help you understand that maybe you will be happy with a corporate job, but it might be a different one, or maybe you will want to start a new company. I'm doing that at the moment, starting a company in the education space.

If you do want to start a new company, then I suggest you read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and go to a local Startup Weekend (or similar event).

Startup Weekends happen all around the world. During them, groups of people get together for 54 hours and try to start new companies. Usually on the Friday night, you'll have a session in which lots of people line up and have one minute to explain their idea. The name of the company or idea gets written on a piece of paper, and after all the ideas have been pitched, people go and vote (using Post it notes or something similar) for a couple of the companies they are interested in. Those with the least votes get eliminated, and at the end of the Friday evening, there are 10 or so groups left, which spend from then until the pitch presentations on the Sunday afternoon working on the idea. I've done three Startup Weekends so far, and they are great for networking, getting stuff done, and getting a feel for it all.

So whatever you do, remember that happiness is primarily based on your mindset, and that you probably need to set your primary purpose or goals in life and work out how to get there. Oh, and I forgot to mention that "Success is a continuous journey."


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Published on: Aug 2, 2017