Dismantling Ideas We All Have About Money

The research is clear: the harder we strive, the less likely we are to be happy. It's time to replace the American Dream with a more expansive view of success.

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It's Time to Redefine Success

“Having relational currency is becoming more important than money.” - Noelle Cordeaux

The research findings are clear and unequivocal: the pursuit of money isn’t giving us what we need as human beings. Capitalism may be the dominant operating system for our society, but the life outcomes people are looking for today are changing. 

Or, perhaps we’re simply reaching back to what they always were. 

If the history of human existence was squeezed into a single day, the Industrial Revolution didn’t take place until midnight! For the vast majority of our history, we lived and worked within smaller, more interconnected communities.

Contrast this with how many people are living in modern society: isolated, disconnected, and living paycheck to paycheck. Never enough time. Striving to get ahead. 

As coaches, we understand that human beings are wired for connection. But we also grapple with the gap between what humans need, and what many of our clients are actually experiencing.

Like it or not, society has taught us the majority of what we believe about money. We’re bombarded from birth with consumer culture messages and imagery designed to show us what “success” looks like. 

There’s a great deal of pressure upon us to produce and achieve. It’s emblematic of the American dream - to build a personal empire as the result of our individual labor. 

The problem we face is that the American Dream is a narrowly defined path. The standards of this ideal are defined by whiteness and western versions of masculinity. It demands an acceptance of prescribed roles, the accumulation of resources, and an exhibition of wealth. 

We’re all influenced by this ideal, but it’s a game that few can win.

Hallmarks of our culture’s ideal of “success” include:

  • Home ownership, marriage, and children
  • Possessions that display our prosperity 
  • Immigrants must assimilate
  • Women must “lean in” and function in step with a hierarchical patriarchy
  • Queer people must marry
  • People of color must code switch 

Whether we consciously agree with the dominant paradigm or not, we’ve all been socialized to it. And when we put our heads down and strive for our personal slice of the “American Dream,” it creates barriers to intimacy and connection. 

It’s difficult to be fully present when we’re constantly chasing more, more, more. It’s also hard to ever fully experience that elusive thing we’re chasing: happiness.

In 2018, a Signa survey found that 25% of people in the United States don’t believe there is anyone in their life who understands them. Only 50% feel they have meaningful interactions with other people every day. 

After the enforced separation that’s come with the pandemic, this acute sense of isolation has only grown more pronounced.

The American Dream itself pits individuals against one another. In the name of market maximization over community, we’re fed a narrative that "getting ahead in life" is a race that we all must run. Instead of collaboration, we’re living inside a system that puts us in direct competition. 

If we don’t outperform someone else, we lose.  

Toxic individualism is emotionally draining. It also does damage to our physical health. Studies have shown that loneliness increases our risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. Loneliness also makes us more hostile toward other people.

Systems lose their power when we don’t buy into them. 

While shifting an entire system takes time, there are things we can do that aren’t all that complicated. It begins by challenging our notion of success. 

We all need social capital (people we can rely on) in order to experience enough psychological safety and positive emotions to flourish in life. And when we seek strong relationships instead of wealth, the outcomes are clear: we’re happier.  

“Notions like trust, state capacity, community-building, social cohesion, and social values like empathy and altruism are now seen as a prerequisite for prosperity and welfare.” - Global Wellness Summit

In an attempt to measure and quantify what actually brings us satisfaction in life, a great deal of research has been done over the past several decades. One of the most well known of these studies has been going for 80 years, and comes out of Harvard University. Here’s what they've learned after following participants for a lifetime:  

  • Relationships with family, friends, and community delay mental and physical decline.
  • Our social ties are better predictors of our happiness and longevity than social class, IQ, or genetics.

Last year, the job website Indeed designed research to explore how people thrive at work. The most striking revelation, published in the United Nation's 2021 World Happiness Report, is that although people think being paid well is the most important driver of being happy at work, it’s not.  Belonging is the most important contributor to our professional happiness, by a long shot.

It’s not our worldly achievements but our close relationships that most contribute to flourishing, happiness and sustenance. 

Episode references:

Ready to Follow YOUR Dream?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

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