Think of all the times you felt pleasure as the result of buying something. When I started interviewing for my first job in the investment business I bought the most expensive suit I could afford. I felt like a million bucks every time I wore that suit! Of course that led to a penchant for expensive suits but that is another issue.

Money does not just buy things but also experiences. How many beautiful memories come to mind because you gave yourself permission to spend money on a new experience or adventure. I can think of so many trips we took as a family or even in younger days before having children. Those were clearly happy times. Weren’t they?

This all makes me think about the definition of “true” happiness. During those same periods in my early life I’m not sure I was all that happy. There were times when my job felt like a dead end, that I wasn’t advancing my career fast enough or earning what I was worth. I think in my 20’s and 30’s I was so career oriented that any time I was unhappy in my job, I was unhappy. Money couldn’t fix that. Most often even a raise didn’t fix it.

I’m getting at a happiness that exists outside the financial realm. The happiness money buys is surely transitory at best. As I’ve gotten older I now feel happier than I can ever remember. I don’t think it has anything to do with the amount of wealth I have or don’t have.

It does have something to do with appreciation for what I do have. It’s not about possessions, as I’ve made a conscious effort to stop accumulating stuff. I find myself noticing and appreciating my health. I feel good about the contribution I make each day in my work helping others with their money.

I wake up each day with a sense that I “get to do it again!” I feel good as I head off to the gym. I see familiar faces and exchange pleasantries. I get together with friends almost every week. I volunteer in my community. I appreciate the abundance of my life and the joy that I feel from the simplest experiences…like a new blossom in the garden, barbequing a steak or taking a nap.

Money plays such an intricate and intimate role in our lives. It can be used to buy things and experiences that help us to feel happy, if only for those moments. But I think we need the other pieces of the puzzle as well. By this I mean the ability to feel appreciation and gratitude. The capacity to slow down enough and be present and open to the little moments of joy that show up each day. To the people who we are blessed to call friends. To find humor in our often mundane and crazy lives. And to know that each moment is unique and we can’t relive it.

It is this appreciation that helps us to feel happy and be able to use our money as a tool to support that happiness. Otherwise it is just spending, money flowing out of our wallets and purses. Our conscious awareness and appreciation are needed to really feel the happiness that money buys.