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Posts Tagged ‘passion vs paycheck’

How many of our career decisions are dictated by the shiny objects?  You know the ones we’re talking about:  the title, the status, and most of all, the fat paycheck.

Okay, they’re not really shiny and they’re not even objects, but you get the point.  We’re constantly on the chase, even when we know it sucks.  Which leads me to wonder how often we’re deterred from following our passions or finding our purpose because we’re too busy running after one of those conventional measures of worth.

How else would we keep score, right?  And money buys us happiness, after all — er, doesn’t it?

Brace yourself.  It does, but only up to a certain point.  Which ultimately, for the undecided among us, is good news.   According to a new study authored by Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, the cut-off point is a household income of $75,000.  Up to that point, individuals in the study reported greater emotional well-being,  a scientific measure of happiness, with greater income.  But above and beyond that magic 75K?  Doesn’t makes us any happier.

Not one bit.

According to a New York Times story on the study:

It’s not so much that money buys you happiness but that lack of money buys you misery, said Daniel Kahneman, a professor emeritus of psychology at Princeton and one of the authors of the study. “The lack of money,” he said, “no longer hurts you after $75,000.”

Where you live and the cost of living there has only a small influence on that number, he added. (That may be a revelation to some Manhattanites.)

The study, which analyzed Gallup data of 450,000 randomly selected Americans, did find that one’s “life evaluation” — a self-assessment of one’s life — continued rising well above $75,000. But this is not the same as experiencing day-to-day happiness.

“Many people want to make a lot of money, but the benefits of having a high income are ambiguous,” said Professor Kahneman, who is also a Nobel laureate in economics. When you are wealthy you are able to buy more pleasures, he said, but a recent study suggests that wealthier people “seem to be less able to savor the small things in life.”

Interesting, that.  And  reassuring, too, especially if it’s our hearts we want to follow when we choose a career. Which leads back to one of the themes in our book, and one we’ve discussed here:   that inner scold that constantly nags that the only way to be all we can be is to stick with Mr. Safe Path.  What we like about this study is that it gives us a nudge, permission even, to follow our passion, rather than the paycheck, when it comes to deciding what to do with our lives.  Back to the Times story:

…Understandably, the recession is causing more people to place the financial rewards of a career first, said Nicholas Lore, founder of the Rockport Institute, a career coaching firm, and author of “The Pathfinder.”

But this could backfire as people who initially pursue a field because of the salary realize that the work is unsatisfying. Mr. Lore has recently coached a lawyer who decided to forgo his high pay in favor of teaching law, an investment banker who decided to switch to a green energy company and a dentist who decided to become a schoolteacher.

It all depends on priorities, Mr. Lore said. Some people are willing to make lifestyle changes because the intrinsic rewards of following a passion or making a difference are more important than a high salary in an unenjoyable career, he said.

In the end, people should pursue what they’re interested in, said Daniel H. Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Looking at lists of careers with the highest salaries tends to be a fool’s game, he said.

“It’s very hard to game the system, in the sense that situations and conditions change so quickly that a field that is hot today might be only lukewarm in 5 or 10 years,” he said. “It might even be nonexistent.”

Let’s say you see that accountants are getting decent salaries directly out of college, he said, but you don’t really like accounting. “Chances are you’re not going to be very good at accounting,” and your salary will reflect that, he said. “Generally, people flourish when they’re doing something they like and what they’re good at.”

Of course, 75 grand is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you’re only a few years out of college.  But what’s reassuring about studies like these is the fact that, if it’s happiness we’re after, there is indeed a finish line.  Sure, the Joneses might pass us by, but if we’re out there doing something we love, we may lose the race, but we certainly will have won the last laugh.

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