What Keeps You In The Rat Race?

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Researchers have found the following three key reasons that people stay tied to the modern competitive struggle for wealth, what we call the rat race: 1. We are raised with the false pretense that being wealthy = being happy 2. We constantly compare ourselves to more powerful, more successful, wealthier people 3. We overconsume

“We are called Human Beings not Human Doings for a reason – Focus on Being now.” - anonymous

Let’s take a second to debunk those misconceptions.

1. Being wealthy ≠ being happy. Research* clearly demonstrates that there is no strong correlation between money and happiness (after you cover the cost of shelter and food).Having more money will NEVER solve your problems. As long as you aren’t living in the street or going hungry, you do not need more money. In fact, in many respects, having more money makes people accumulate assets. This accumulation in turn results in additional headaches which only negatively affect happiness.

There’s a reason why the Old Testament says, “He who increases his assets, increases his worries,” or, to use the more modern musings of Mr. P.Diddy, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems!” If money was the key to happiness, then the wealthiest people would the happiest, which is certainly not the case. The news is filled with miserable stories of multi-millionaires struggling with divorces, lawsuits over their wealth, bankruptcies, and interpersonal issues.

I’ve travelled to places around the world. I’ve seen some of the poorest people on Earth, people with no electricity, running water or material possessions. But under those conditions, I’ve seen some of the purest expressions of happiness. They were happy with the simple things they did have and weren’t making themselves miserable over the things they didn’t have! Everything that is wonderful about life doesn't cost a penny, and the rest is way cheaper than you think.

2. Comparing ourselves to more powerful or wealthier people. We have a natural tendency to compare our lives and fortunes to others. In countries with a narrower gap between the rich and the poor (such as Sweden and Denmark), people report a higher happiness level. Unfortunately, the media is full of stories about people who are perceived as wealthier, more successful, more beautiful or more powerful, and our minds make immediate comparisons between their situations and our own state. This constant comparison to the unattainable leaves many of us feeling lacking, reducing our self-confidence and contributing to our feeling of unhappiness.

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3. We overconsume. The materialistic society we live in teaches us from an early age to accumulate things. The quantity and quality of our stuff becomes a measure of success and therefore, supposedly, happiness.

We are bombarded daily with thousands of advertisements for products that we “need” to buy. The underlying message is that we’ll feel as happy as the paid models in the ads are acting if we just buy the newer car model, that luxury handbag or a bigger apartment in a new development.

Even the U.S. government publicly provides incentives to encourage people to spend so the economy can continue to grow. This brainwashing has made shopping a favorite time-killing activity for millions of Americans. And, indeed, it kills time, but it also can kill your happinessas research proves that excessive consumption of material products doesn’t contribute to one’s happiness. Rather, in many respects, it reduces it - and can even lead to depression*.

When we purchase that luxury handbag our brain experiences an immediate high caused by endorphins that are secreted in our brain. When those endorphins dissipate over time, two things happen:

  1. Your base level is adjusted. Now that you own that handbag, you take it for granted, it becomes less exciting, and your brain seeks a new “fix”, a new excitement, a new “high”. So your temporarily elevated happiness level becomes your new base level. Suddenly, you’re not happy anymore, and you find yourself looking for a new “happy” level, probably in the form of a more expensive purchase that can beat the previous “high”. Sound familiar?

  2. Purchase consequences. Now that you’ve gotten the handbag, you need to deal with having less money to pay for other things. You need to make sure that you stay employed in order to pay off the credit card bill of the card you used to pay for the handbag, increasing stress and reducing happiness. Once the initial “high” from the purchase is gone, you might realize the new product wasn’t really worth it (or even worse, you couldn’t really afford it). This sad realization reduces your happiness level.

This overconsumption behavior, buying things that we don’t really need (do you really need 60 pairs of shoes or the latest gadget?), ties us even more to the rat race. We find that we need to keep the job we hate simply to be able to pay bills which “somehow” keep piling up. We feel frustrated, chained to a materialistic lifestyle that is supposed to be glamorous but, in reality, is very unfulfilling.

To better your life, you need to fill your time with purposeful activities, activities that make you happy when you do them. For example, my purpose, at this point of my life, is to spend time with my two children and prepare them to be good citizens of the world. As such, every hour that I can spend with them teaching them new things fills me with great happiness. I direct my energy toward being able to spend more time with my children, and every challenge life throws at me (and it throws many – I’m not immune to problems with work, health, etc.) is viewed in perspective.

Today I live a much happier life, not because I’m traveling around the world, but because traveling with my family is a purposeful activity which fills my life with meaning.

But how can someone afford to just unhook from the rat race? How are we doing it and remaining profitable? Get the full insight below so you, too, can escape the rat-race and live a more balanced and fulfilling life:

References:* It's All About the Money (For Some): Consequences of Financially Contingent Self-Worth. By Park LE, Ward DE, Naragon-Gainey.**Consumerism Is Making Us Depressed And Anti-Social, By Jill Krasny

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