In an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, Daffy Duck plays "The Happy Miser"- although he's perpetually unhappy. It's amazing to me that an old cartoon can teach us so many things about human nature and our attitudes about money - all in about 85 seconds.
Look at the following examples of money behavior in this cartoon clip.
As Daffy was scurrying to stockpile his riches, he stumbles upon a lamp with a genie in it. Now if I had a genie come out of a lamp and address me as his master, I can think of a million things I would command him to do. But what does Daffy do? He ignores this opportunity by forcing the genie back into the lamp because he thinks the lamp could bring a "quick 4 bits [50 cents] on the open market." To pass up the power of a genie for 50 cents is incredulous - but this is what happens when we're focused on the wrong things!
Using money to feel invincible
After The Happy Miser forces the genie back into the lamp, he arises again to declare "Don't...you have desecrated the spirit of the lamp - prepare to take the consequences!" The Happy Miser replies "consequences, schmonsequences - as long as I'm rich" - and he pays dearly for it as the genie shrinks him.
Feeling invincible because of wealth is an expression of extreme overconfidence that usually leads to trouble. From time to time we see high-profile people whose money-induced arrogance made them feel they were above the law or above social norms - leading them to make a fool of themselves. Whether it's Michael Vick, former star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons until he served prison time for involvement in a dog-fighting ring, Rod Blagojovich, former governor of Illinois caught trying to sell Barack Obama's former Congressional seat, or Paris Hilton recklessly partying because she has no purpose in life because of inherited wealth, their money made them feel invincible- and immune from the consequences of their actions.
Even if you're not as wealthy or powerful as these folks, do you feel more immune from trouble when you have more money?
Letting our money affect our moods
It's clear in this case "The Happy Miser" is an oxymoron. Daffy can never be happy because he's too focused on his wealth. We oftentimes judge our circumstances by how financially secure we feel. When things are going well we spend money more freely. We are optimistic. We are happy. Have you ever heard the term "procurement therapy?" Some people actually release stress and feel peaceful by shopping. If they can't spend, they're unhappy. It's very easy to spend money in America - at the mall or online. It takes a real effort to resist the urge to spend.
We shouldn't let money affect our moods - whether we have too much or too little.
Letting our money steal our fun
The happiest life is often the simplest. In this cartoon Bugs Bunny is enjoying a relaxing day in Pismo Beach, while the now-shrunken Daffy runs out of a hole in the ground to anxiously claim Bugs' pearl he found in an oyster. He's so consumed by his wealth, he completely ignores that gorgeous sunny day at the beach!
One of my clients said some of the happiest times of his life was when he was on his last one hundred dollars - he has learned healthy attitudes about wealth.
Making your wealth matter
Wealth is more than money - it's the ability to make a difference in peoples' lives. But it's easy to indulge ourselves by buying more stuff than we need to be happy. We start out buying necessities and basic comforts, but we soon find ourselves acquiring more luxuries. If we buy to excess, our stuff ends up complicating our lives and becomes a burden, especially if we've racked up debt to buy the stuff.
Many pleasures in life are almost free and you don't need to be wealthy to enjoy them. Here are just a few of my most pleasurable memories I have:
- Celebrating my birthday with a family picnic - home made chicken salad sandwiches and cookies and play wiffle ball afterward.
- Mountain biking with my son - even though I have many more hours on the bike and he beats me to the top of the mountain.
- Playing capture the flag with my daughter and her friends at a local park - even though I get tagged every time.
- Spending a day at the beach in Santa Cruz with family friends.
- Teaching my son how to change spark plugs.
- Inviting friends over for a barbecue and to play a board game - even if I don't have the "perfect house for entertaining."
- Shooting hoops with my kids and getting beat playing H-O-R-S-E.
- Hiking to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Park - and seeing all nine boys and two other adults make it too.
The best opportunities for happiness are right in front of us every day. True confidence and peace comes from living a life of integrity. Happiness isn't found at the mall or the car dealerships - it is within us. Most things with intrinsic value are free or close to it.
Right now, as you read this, think of an experience that would be free (or close to it) and that would create a wonderful memory for you or someone else within the next 72 hours - and then do it! As you spend more time on the joys in life that don't require money, you'll protect yourself from becoming an un-Happy Miser.