Does Money Really Motivate? Where to Draw the Line

By  //  February 11, 2020

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There is no question that we need money, and that almost all of us would like more of it. Despite this truism, money as a motivator is not as pronounced and overwhelming as we can often think.

There is no question that we need money, and that almost all of us would like more of it. Despite this truism, money as a motivator is not as pronounced and overwhelming as we can often think.

As a driver of success or hard-work, there are definite limits on just how much money can push us, and this is something which we need to examine and internalize.

Earning money for the sake of earning money is no recipe for happiness. On the other hand, having no money makes life impossible, stressful, and impossibly stressful. So where exactly do we draw the line, and what might we learn about ourselves by examining our personal boundaries?

A Base Need

To begin with, it needs to be clearly stated that some amount of money, at least in the current economic system, is always going to be a base requirement. It’s for this reason that there exists a base minimum level of motivation towards making money which is always going to exist.

This motivation tends to increase for those of us with families, as the need to support them and improve their lives is a fundamental part of our protective instinct.

The Money/Job Relationship

The real question arises once our base needs are met. When we no longer need to constantly struggle to get by, and when we start to generate savings rather than debt, this is where we find uncertainty. It’s easy to think that if we had more money, if we had a better paying job, that we would be happier. Is this truly the case?

According to a study by Tim Judge and colleagues, the answer is an overwhelming no. This meta-analysis worked off over a hundred years of research to collate the results of 92 other studies in an attempt to draw a relationship between pay and job satisfaction levels. The results found that there was only around a 2% overlap between the two factors. Simply put, a higher paying job very rarely meant a greater like of a person’s job.

This study even went a step further and found that higher pay didn’t even necessarily mean greater pay satisfaction, with only a 4.8% overlap recorded.

So, what conclusion can we draw from this study? In terms of career, it means the true motivator, at least for those who have their needs met, is not more money. True satisfaction, in terms of a career, is found in factors such as personal fulfilment.

Hitting Limits on Enjoyment

The other side of this equation comes from how we utilize our financial means to achieve personal enjoyment. Put another way, can money be a motivating factor for hobbies and entertainment?

Again, there is a base level where this can help, but on upper levels, again, the answer is still no.

Expensive hobbies, in most cases, are not likely to make a person any happier than cheap ones. An amateur who skies at the most expensive resort in the world is unlikely to derive an appreciable amount of extra enjoyment than an amateur who skies at home, for example.

Of course, increased levels of ability and knowledge could affect greater appreciation down the line, but not in a way that directly correlates with enjoyment.

For example, a similar observation could be made about online casino games. Many of these are available for free but for those interested in playing for real money, opening bets are as cheap or even cheaper than their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts, but this doesn’t translate to less enjoyment.

In fact, the greater overall level of convenience can make them even more engaging, just as can be the case with the skiing example. In other words, no matter what the activity, a hundred times the cost does not equal a hundred times the enjoyment.

Finding Motivation

Taking these different aspects into account, we can start to see an undeniable picture of what sort of real relationship money and motivation can have. Outside of the necessities, it turns out that money is not a great way to motivate, and it’s a poor substitute for personal or professional satisfaction.

Instead, the key to motivation lies in passion, in our true desires and what appeals to us at our core. The problem we so often have is finding where these interests lie and then coming up with a plan to engage with them. Rather than looking within money, look within yourself, at what you loved growing up, and what you might have abandoned for the rat race along the way.

It might take some time, but remember that bourgeoisie affectations are factually a rare recipe for happiness, and you’ll be all the better off for it.