Route to Joy

A last minute breakfast meeting at Game Developers Conference allowed me to make a new acquaintance while hearing an interesting theory to wealth.

His theory was there are five things you can do with money.

  1. Earn it
  2. Save it
  3. Invest it
  4. Spend it
  5. Give it

His theory says that only giving will help one experience true joy. That the other acts will bring fleeting happiness at best. I’ve thought about this a lot.

It is true that when I’ve earned money, I feel satisfaction, but the satisfaction is merely from having a yardstick to a truly satisfying action (aka, creating a great company). I’ve personally never been a skilled at saving. Investing money begets more money, which doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with money. Spending it can buy a lot of nice things. Can things buy joy?

And then there’s the final part of the theory. Giving it. Does that provide any joy more fleeting than the others? Or is giving it just as fleeting and temporary?

Since hearing this theory I’ve been trying to formulate an experiment. Assuming I’ve already earned it, I would then take $1,000×4 and find great ways to save, invest, spend and give it. And then track the joy received each from each action. Would one learn from that experiment? What’s the best way to set up and track it?

    • Shelly
    • March 14th, 2012

    Dont know how much you’d learn if there really is question of giving bringing joy. That is more a matter of the heart & us poor people do it as well. 😉 If you really want to play take four months and do one thing each month & see how you feel. If you do more than one thing at a time how will you know what brought more or less joy.

    • That’s the best suggestion we’ve seen as to how to do an experiment. Now sure if one can fully isolate it, but if that was the number one priority in one’s spare time (imagine, a whole month of shopping!).

      Though how would one focus on saving? Just keep checking the online balance?

  1. As with any scientific experiment, you must define the terms.

    How do you define joy in your life? Can you quantify it?

    How can you isolate the actions you take with money from any other events in your life? If you give a millions dollars and then get injured in a car accident, your results may be tainted.

    Personally, I differ joy from happiness by joy being an attitude and happiness being a feeling. Based on this definition, having joy is a discipline based more on your own mental fitness than on the effect of my actions or the affects of others’ actions.

    • Good point about joy vs. happiness and a great addition to the “there isn’t really a great way to experiment with this” conversation.

      Your point about joy being an attitude vs. happiness as a feeling is interesting.

      Question for you: by your logic, one could live a fairly joyful life regardless of the fluctuations of day to day happiness. Am I reading that right?

      • You got it precisely right.

        Also, I would submit that money is simply a tool and it’s the effect of the use (vs the use itself) of that tool that should be measured.

        Take a hammer for example. It can be used to pull nails and drive nails. Does one provide more happiness than the other? If you are driving nails into a new house vs driving nails to close a coffin I think they same action would have very different effects on your happiness.

    • Arthur Mayes
    • March 15th, 2012

    I would say, think back on the moment you did whatever you did with the money, and see if it still brings you a sense of joy.

  2. As the others have stated, I believe that, to quantify “joy” and “happiness” is difficult. One month from now, you may forget about the thing that you bought or the donation that you made. Would you count the days that you remembered it? That would just make you continuously aware of it, which in turn, would skew the results.

    I agree with the others in saying that it’s all a matter of opinion. Do you enjoy giving away your money more than you do when you buy stuff for yourself? I believe that’s pretty much the overall answer here.

    • Everyone is posting some good thoughts about the impossibility of a decent test, you especially hit the target with the point that it would make you aware of it which would skew results.

      I think the reason I’d like a test is that there’s a difference between what I enjoy, and what is long term beneficial, or what gives me a short term boost, versus long term satisfaction.

    • Brian White
    • March 15th, 2012

    John – I saw a series the BBC ran a few years back called The Happiness Formula:

    It explored the science of happiness, along with social, cultural and political issues that surround the idea of happiness. It included discussion and analysis of everything from the neuroscience and psychology of measuring and understanding happiness, to attempts at promoting happiness through political policy. It also focused quite a bit on the connections between wealth and happiness.

    The site referenced above has a number of articles and clips from the series. I think you may find it interesting.

    • Holy Cow Brian!

      That site is a veritable cornucopia of great articles!

      Thank you

        • Brian White
        • March 15th, 2012

        One thing, in particular, jumped out for me:

        The leading American psychologist Professor Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, told The Happiness Formula that the science of happiness is based on one straightforward idea:

        “It may sound silly but we ask people ‘How happy are you 1-7, 1-10?

        “And the interesting thing is that produces real answers that are valid, they’re not perfect but they’re valid and they predict all sorts of real things in their lives.”


        Perhaps the best “test” is to simply ask yourself how happy various things make you on a 1-10. Record those.

        There is a designer, Nicolas Feltron ( who makes “personal” annual reports each year (check them out on his site), and created a really cool app:

        Might be an interesting way to collect data on your day-to-day happiness and start looking for patterns.

  3. Brian already dropped a good link, and I’ve found some of the most accessible writing on this to be done by Dan Ariely, I think the actual bit is in one of his books but here’s a related blog post:

    Or, just filter his blog (, natch) by “happiness”:

    My theory: Everything, including giving, wears off. Novelty (sometimes called experiences) is the source most sustainable and elusive cause of happiness.

    • That’s an interesting theory and lines up with some of my experience. But can’t the focus on novelty shield you from the happiness and joy of intimacy (whether with a person, or with the depth of something)? Or would you say the continued investment in a person or experience can level new forms of novelty?

      Like when you have an “aha” moment after your thousandth game of chess.

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