Happiness & Financial Health


Happiness and Your Financial Health

A while back, Josh sent me a note when I wrote about happiness and he asked if I could write something for his blog, I told him yes and then my life proceeded to get busy with work commitments, so this post is embarrassingly delayed. In my defense, I have written about my additional workload over on Young Adult Money and Sprout Wealth. But enough of my excuses, I feel bad that it has taken me so long to get back to him because I actually wanted to write what he asked me about writing which is one of my favorite topics, happiness.

A few years ago, I was working for a hedge fund and I was responsible for managing the sale of a piece of property the fund owned in California. So, I trekked out west for a week of meetings and the first one was with our land use attorney to find out what had been happening on the property. To say that he was quirky, was an understatement, but I got along with him and we became instant friends. During one of our conversations, he shared that I seemed as though I was really unhappy.

What?! How could he say something like that? He just met me, what did he know about my emotional state? After further conversation with this attorney, who also happens to be a life coach, I realized that he was right, and despite my joyful exterior, my internal mental state was not one of happiness.

The realization led me to the pursuit of this elusive emotion through books, videos, meditation, yoga, journaling or anything else I could try to get a handle on it. And after an exhaustive journey, I found my answer. There is an anonymous saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will enter.” For me, that teacher was a book about Happiness written by a Buddhist monk. It not only “taught” me about happiness, but it changed my life.

Essentially what the book’s author stated was that when we think solely of ourselves, we make ourselves unhappy. And the only way to discover true and lasting happiness is to help other people without expecting anything in return. It is easier said that done because we typically do put expectations on other people. However, for the last five years, I have actively incorporated these practices into my daily life and consequently, the last five years have been the happiest of my life.

Josh has written a bunch about how to be a successful blogger, and a lot of what he has written is based on this philosophy. The bloggers that I enjoy and many others enjoy as well are supportive and encouraging without expecting anything in return. They comment on my site and don’t expect me to comment on theirs. They tweet my latest posts or they like my statuses on Facebook. And I know for a fact, that all of these successful bloggers are happiest when they are helping others. I know they are because I feel the same way. Hmmm…maybe there is some truth to what the monk is saying?

Why is finding happiness important at all? Because financial health is as much of an emotional journey as it is a financial one and when we are in a good place emotionally, we will be in a good place financially even if the numbers are not what society would tell us they should be to be happy. In fact a recent study claims that the happiest salary for people in the US is $75,000.

I work with clients on a daily basis to help them achieve their financial goals, and one of the main reasons for their success is that I help them not only financially but also emotionally. It doesn’t feel good to make tough choices and say no to going out with friends or buying clothes or some other temporary experience, so I help my clients work through these feelings of disappointment to stay focused on what is important which is their financial health.

I recently had a quarterly meeting with a client and her financial picture was a mess, and she knew it. When we talked through the reasons, it turned out she was unhappy with her life and trying to figure things out. Unfortunately, this unhappiness led to lots of unnecessary spending and less saving, but she recognized this misstep and she is moving forward working on both her financial and her mental health. And this client is not unique (at least not to me). I have witnessed a direct correlation between poor financial choices and unhappiness repeatedly.

If you are struggling with finding happiness, or even if you were like me and didn’t know you were unhappy, commit to your own pursuit of the emotion. Read what Josh is writing, watch some TED talks or read some books. It is a pursuit that will not only benefit you emotionally but financially.

What are your keys to happiness? Do you feel you do better financially when you are “together” emotionally?

About The Author

Shannon McLay is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, NextGen Financial, to help clients in their 20s and 30s get financially fit. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way to Financial Fitness and her partnership with Money Saving Pro, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for others.  


  1. Really interesting read. We are certainly discontent with our financial situation, which isn’t overspending induced (student loans). Interestingly enough, if my husband earned $75k (your noted “happy salary”) I’d be a stay at home mom like we want. No, money can’t buy happiness, but debt can certainly steal it.

  2. My keys to happiness is being with my loved ones. Because they are the ones I can share my problems to and I learned a lot from their pieces of advice especially my mom, she’s inspiring me always. Anyways, I love this post. I love reading it from the beginning till the end. I learned from your story too. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Hey Shannon, I’m glad you decided to be part of the series. I’ll definitely keep the topic rolling and really appreciate the great piece you wrote for me here!

  3. I completely agree with this. My grandma is by far the happiest person I know and everybody loves her because she is the most unselfish person in the world. She’s always trying to help others and always looking for ways to make you feel comfortable. A lot of us tell her to just sit down and relax, but she doesn’t listen and instead says “this is what makes me happy, don’t worry I’m okay.”

    We should all be like my grandma.

  4. The philosohpy minor in me loves reading and discussing happiness! I really enjoyed this post, Shannon! Personal finance is absolutely tied to happiness and I think it’s really important to recognize that.

  5. Man, I couldn’t agree more. I’m always reminded of Zig Ziglar’s quote: “when you help lots of people get what they want, you always seem to get what you want….”

  6. I think that what makes me most unhappy is when unexpected things happen that are devastating either health-wise, financially, etc. What I need to do is two-fold: prepare for the things that I can and deal better with the things I have no control over.

  7. Hi Shannon, great post about two topics that really do have a huge impact on each other. I know when I’m not happy for whatever reason, it really is hard to stick to my financial goals. And I completely agree with the impact of helping others – I continually find my best days at work are where I’ve interacted with and impacted others (even on those days where I go into work thinking I just want a quiet day to myself!).

    This post also reminds me of the classic ‘your money or your life’, and spending in line with your own purpose and values. I think when you can nail this, the magic really happens between your finances and happiness 🙂

  8. Great post, Shannon! I totally agree then when the focus is solely on ourselves, it leads to unhappiness. I think this is a large part of why people spend themselves into oblivion and are still unhappy. I’m so glad I found the way out too. Life is much better in “happy”. 🙂

  9. I can’t really state whether I am “happy” with my financial status at present or not. But one thing I can definitely say is that I am not distressed with my existing financial state. Even two years back, I was battling with outstanding debts but not today. Am not yet in a position to spend too much on luxuries, but have definitely brought my loans under control. 🙂

  10. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too cheesy, but my husband and kids make me so happy that it’s almost like nothing else matters. I have some stresses in life, but they help me keep things in perspective.

  11. There are so many emotions when it comes to money matters. Many of them can be negative which can lead to unhappiness as you mentioned with only thinking of ourselves. Also so many people give money power when really money has no power but only what we decide to give it.

  12. Helping others really does make me happy. I like knowing that I’ve been able to make a difference in the lives of others, and I truly enjoy making other people happy. Even if it’s just by making their lives a little easier. Unfortunately, I’m kind of struggling with how to fulfill this career-wise. I’ve been trying to read inspirational books and do some soul searching lately.

  13. Since I’m at stay at home mom I am the happiest. I don’t care how this sound, but I am. Not only do I love being with my family. Not only am I happy but I have been able to save money more so than when I was working. Great post.

    • It is definitely not easy to focus on yourself, in fact, it is probably the first reaction for all of us (me included). I have really had to work hard on my outwardly focused frame of mind, but it’s true, it is a fantastic reward when we go there.

  14. They say “money can’t buy happiness but it sure helps.”

    Money is definitely emotional but it need not be. If we choose to be happy and act in accordance, it goes a long way. We shouldn’t be happy or not about how much or how little money we have, but we should be happy that we are taking responsibility for our money. It’s how we live our life, not what we accumulate that is the key to happiness. Helping others is a big part of that too.

    Great share, Shannon. Worth the wait!! 😉

  15. Thanks Shannon for the post. It’s crazy sometimes like you mentioned that sometimes credit card debt or lack of savings really has nothing to do with the dollars and sense and rather it’s an emotional action. Like eating a gallon of ice cream because your sad only with credit card shopping instead.

  16. I had someone call me out on me looking unhappy before. It’s pretty jarring. It’s also kind of a backhanded compliment but we won’t get into that. 🙂 Anyway, I agree that it’s also focusing outward. Happy people enable other people to be proactive. And I do believe there is a strong connection with being happy, and being able to save money and not spend. You are not looking for outside things to fill you up.


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