There is no question that money plays an important role in our lives. The fact is we spend a big portion of our waking hours working. But make no mistake: what people actually want is not the money itself; it’s the happiness that money can bring.

There is a common misconception here: many people assume that the more money they make, the happier they will become. To an extent, that’s true. When you have no house to live in and no warm food on the table, making more money does increase your happiness. But beyond a certain point, studies find that additional income brings no increase in happiness. In general, I would say that you reach that point when you are considered “middle class.”

Once you reach this point, making more money is not a good strategy to increase your happiness. What should we do then?

The answer lies in the fact that there is another side of making money: it’s not the amount you make, but how you make it. Once we reach the point where increasing the amount doesn’t increase happiness, it’s time to focus on the other side of the equation. This, then, is what you should do:

Improve the way you make money instead of the amount.

There is nothing wrong with making more money. But you should focus more on how you make money rather than on how much. What’s the use of making a lot of money if your work makes you stressful and unhappy? Isn’t it better to earn a decent income in a way that makes you happy?

Being content plays a role here. In order to move your attention away from making more money, you should learn to be content. You should believe that what you have is already enough. Only then can you move your focus to how you make money.

The next question is: what is the ideal way to make money?

To answer this question, I’d like to refer to an interview with Andreas Illiger, the creator of Tiny Wings. Tiny Wings is a successful iOS game that has sold more than six million copies. Even more astonishing, the entire game (coding, graphics, and music) is created by just one person. You might want to read the complete interview, but here is an excerpt:

Q: How has success changed your lifestyle?
A: I still live in my cheap two-room apartment together with my girlfriend, I still do not have a car (I don’t even have a driver’s license), and most of my days are the same as before Tiny Wings: sitting in my room doing creative stuff. Things that changed: I am buying good food, mostly organic (in [2010] I was very poor and had to buy cheap food); I bought a new laptop and some cool toys.
Q: What would you like to be doing in five years?
A: … I live my passion and never want to do something else, so I would like to do the same thing I do now.

The excerpt above shows us two things about Illiger. First, he was content. He earned millions of dollars but his lifestyle was practically the same. His work wasn’t motivated by material things. Second, he lived his passion. He said that even with the success he had, he wouldn’t want to do anything else. He would keep doing what he had been doing.

That gives us a sign of the ideal type of work for a person: you live your passion and don’t want to do something else. Even with a lot of money in hand, you would keep doing what you have been doing. Why? Because it’s your passion. It makes you feel alive.

Once you reach the middle class, I believe your goal should be to live your passion rather than make more money. Find ways to make a living from your passion. You might not be able to do it right away, but you can start a side project and keep building it over time. Eventually you will reach a point where you can live entirely from your passion.

When that happens, work will feel like play. I like the way Stephen King put it in On Writing:

For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground.

It’s a great way to live, isn’t it?

Photo by F.C. Photography