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MPJ: Why Money Can't Buy My Happiness (Or Yours)

MPJ: Why Money Can't Buy My Happiness (Or Yours)
Posted by Keith Simon

I have a friend who, before I knew him, had gobs of money. Our mutual friends who knew him when he was rich regale me with stories of lavish parties, hotel rooms equipped with bowling alleys, special treatment at Vegas clubs, and, predictably, fancy cars. By the time I met him, he’d lost his fortune due to a combination of unwise decisions and unfortunate circumstances.

With the lavish lifestyle forever in his rearview mirror and a few years of experience living like the rest of us under his belt, my friend told me what he missed most about having money. It wasn’t something I’d ever thought of. What he missed most was the freedom to tell people to “F off.”

For many, “F-You Money” means you can tell your boss to take this job and shove it. But for my friend, it meant not having to pretend to like people you don’t. For everyone, “F-You Money” means independence—doing what you want when you want. “F-You Money” means happiness.

Michael Porter Jr. recently signed a max contract with the Denver Nuggets. That’s $207M over five years with $172M guaranteed. I’m pretty sure that’s some serious “F-You Money.” Unless you’re Mike Tyson, it should be more than enough for the rest of your life.

MPJ is a smart guy. He knows that the money could mess with him, changing him into a person he doesn’t want to be. That’s why he sat down and wrote a letter to the $207M, telling the contract what was most important to him.

MPJ is right. Money can’t make you happy. Only Jesus can.

The True Key to Happiness

Somewhere in history, Christianity got falsely labeled as a faith that isn’t concerned with your happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants you to be happy. He’s wired you to desire happiness. And he has told you how to be happy.

Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century philosopher, wrote:

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

Pascal is simply restating what many others—from Aristotle to the Psalmists to Thomas Jefferson—have said. People have a natural inclination to seek happiness. In fact, that’s the primary motivation behind every decision of every person in every era of human history. Given that we all desire happiness, you’d think we’d better understand what makes us happy. Alas, it isn’t so.

God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me—the spring of living water—and they dug their own cisterns—cracked cisterns that hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

In the ancient Middle East, water was both precious and hard to come by. Rainwater was collected and stored in tanks called cisterns. A cracked cistern was a tragedy because as the water leaked out, so did your life.

The prophet Jeremiah says that when we give our life to anyone but God, our happiness starts leaking. We have abandoned the living water, building cracked cisterns instead. We left the God who will bring us happiness and instead tried to find happiness apart from him.

Cracked Cisterns

Here are three common cracked cisterns that leak happiness—maybe your happiness?

        1. Freedom 

This takes us back to “F-You Money” and the belief that doing what you want when you want is true happiness. We all get the appeal of a life that centers our wants and needs. But if freedom and independence made you happier, then being married and raising kids should lead to lower levels of happiness. After all, nothing quite pushes you out of the center of your life like the needs of other people.

 So why is it people who are married with children  report higher levels of happiness than single adults?

 Or take the case of Adele, who said that she got divorced because she wasn’t as happy as she wanted to be. Unfortunately, she’s still struggling to find the happiness she’s been chasing: 

"If I can reach the reason why I left, which was the pursuit of my own happiness, even though it made Angelo [her 9-year-old son] really unhappy—if I can find that happiness and he sees me in that happiness, then maybe I'll be able to forgive myself for it.”

She pursued her happiness by ending a marriage and starting a new relationship but now can’t forgive herself for stealing her son’s happiness. Turns out, centering yourself in your story is a quick route to unhappiness.

What if what actually makes you happier is putting others’ interests ahead of your own wants and needs? What if Jesus is right: the way to true life comes by dying to self?

        2. Options

We’ve never had more options. We’ve also never had more anxiety and depression. Maybe those are related?

 Through the power of the internet, we have more opportunities to choose where to live, where to work, and how to identify than at any other time in history. The Great Resignation is due, in part, to people who are convinced there must be a better career opportunity than where they are currently working.

 The Paradox of Choice states that the more choices a person has, the more anxiety and dissatisfaction they will experience. If you offer a person a choice of six different chocolate candies, they will be happier with their choice than if they had thirty-six to choose from. With the additional options comes the fear that one of those might have been better than the one they chose.  

With all the available options, why would anyone choose to live in North Dakota? Wouldn’t San Diego, where the weather is always sunny and 70, be preferable? Interestingly, people who move in search of happiness do experience higher levels of happiness. But it doesn’t last. They soon return to the same levels of happiness they experienced in their previous location.  

Happiness isn’t determined by circumstances. Some people have mastered the ability to be unhappy anywhere.

What if the secret to happiness isn’t autonomy and choice but rootedness and commitment? What if Jesus is right and happiness is available to everyone because it is found in him?

        3. Consumption 

No nation in human history has enjoyed the standard of living that is experienced by most Americans. If history is our measure, every American is fabulously rich. Rich but unhappy.  

To quote Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level, their book on market economics, “It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life.”

So how did the wealthiest, most technologically advanced, most educated nation, with access to medical care most people in history couldn’t even dream of, become so unhappy, so anxious, so depressed, so lonely, so medicated with psychotropic drugs?  

That’s a complicated answer, but experts agree that, at the very least, much of our unhappiness is driven by our consumer culture that promises that happiness is as close as your next purchase. Modern marketing thrives on fostering discontent with the status quo. As a former director of General Motors Research Lab once put it, advertising is the “organized creation of dissatisfaction.” 

Our consumer society encourages you to spend money you don’t have on products you don’t need for a happiness that won’t last.

What if Ecclesiastes is right when it says that the pursuit of more money and stuff only leaves you feeling emptier (Ecc. 2:4-11)?

MPJ isn’t different than you and me, so why am I inclined to think that he is? Specifically, why do I think that his $207M contract might change him, but I’m unconcerned with how my pursuit of money is changing me? Sure, he has more freedom, options, and opportunities for consumption than I do, but I’m pretty sure I still have more than enough rope to hang myself on the gallows of unhappiness.

Not only is the problem we experience the same, but so is the solution. It’s that living water that Jeremiah wrote about. Where do I find water that satisfies the thirst of my soul?

Jesus has the answer: “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14).

In our recent conversation with Michael Porter, Jr., he stated that he is happiest, not when he’s enjoying the benefits of his lucrative NBA contract, but when he’s at peace in his relationship with God.

Want to hear more and learn how MPJ stays rooted in his faith? Check out our recent episode now!


Posted by Keith Simon

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