Last year, a very close friend of mine called me. Ã¢â‚¬ËœAmwene ndazitaya. Ndapeza pena basi (I am quitting; I have found a new job).Ã‚Â He told me where he was moving to and I was left mouth agape. Ã¢â‚¬ËœGet out of town buddy!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I responded. Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo, am not joking,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ he quickly chipped in.
This friend is good at what he does. I have always admired to bits his skill and professional ethics! But he had left his full time job that earned him more than three quarters of a million kwacha for one offering him less than a quarter of a million kwacha. Something was wrong. I called the wife in disbelief, but she confirmed the sameÃ¢â‚¬â€Ã¢â‚¬Ëœndi momwemo alamu (thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true in-law).
Why would somebody walk away from a job that pays well and take up another that pays less? I stood there trying to solve the puzzle. I wished it was calculus because I would have applied my mathematical knowledge. So I was all over searching for answers.
I later discovered the answer to be simple. Money isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t everything.
A long while back, I read Daniel GilbertÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great book, Stumbling on Happiness. One little point he made stuck in my mind. Gilbert wrote about a study in USA that compared workersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ happiness with their salary levels. He found that there is a minimum income threshold on which peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happiness gets fulfilled.
What did he find? He found that people earning less than $40 000 in a year were much less happy with their lives than people earning $40 000 exactly.
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interesting, though, is that people earning over $40 000 were not any happier with their lives. Additional income did nothing to increase peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happiness.
Gilbert offered a bunch of his own conclusions from that study, but my conclusion was pretty simple: any income above a certain threshold does not make you happier. I know the threshold is not $40 000 for Malawi Ã¢â‚¬â€œ itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s likely much lower. Besides, the threshold varies based on location, number of dependants, and so on.
What does that Ã¢â‚¬Å“enoughÃ¢â‚¬Â income (threshold) represent? It represents the amount of money needed to keep a roof over your head, food on your plate, a car in your driveway (for others), and a little bit of breathing room to enjoy life. Income beyond that does nothing more than inflate our basic standard of living Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a nicer house, a nicer car, a nicer vacation.
But in the long run, those Ã¢â‚¬Å“nicerÃ¢â‚¬Â things donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t contribute at all to lasting happiness. Once we have those Ã¢â‚¬Å“nicerÃ¢â‚¬Â things, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re right back where we started, wanting something nicer yet. Our Corolla becomes the Rav4 weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve wanted, and then before long we want a BMW. Our 1 000 square foot house becomes a 1 600 square foot house, and then we want a palace. Our camping vacation in Dowa becomes a week-long holiday in Lake Malawi National Park, and then we want a holiday at Victoria Falls. Our Ã¢â‚¬ËœMose wa LeroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ cell phone becomes a Nokia 5210, and then we want a Blackberry.
Once our bases are covered, more of the same doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bring us much fulfilment. Instead, fulfilment comes from the things that make you happy and bring you value in life.
But for a lot of people, whether theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re acting on it or not, fulfilment comes from other sources. Perhaps it comes from being a parent. Perhaps it comes from work that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re passionate about. Maybe it comes from obtaining degrees.
Whatever that fulfilment is, it rarely comes from acquiring more of the same things you already have.
These days, whenever I see someone making the active choice to go for a lesser paying job, I usually smile. Why? Because I can look at their face and know if they have found the magic for happiness or not.