Money Isn’t Meaning: Do Something You Love!


“Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil.”

~ Henry Fielding, English Dramatist & Novelist

A comfortable existence, with extra cash and the ability to live without monetary constraint, is assumed to be the ultimate in success. All you have to do is turn on the television set, scan your radio, or drive on a highway past the hundreds of billboards to get the message that money and possessions are the root of happiness.

But when one lacks love or experiences the pain of loss, what really matters in life becomes clear. Numerous studies indicate that happiness is found within, in the pursuit of doing something you love rather than in having money itself. Supporting our families, putting a roof over their heads, having cars, making our lives easier, are all valid reasons for wanting money. Unfortunately, American culture now has it backwards. Today, we work more for money and the accumulation of material possessions, rather than finding something we truly enjoy doing. In other words, we pursue money for what looks like the wrong reasons. This is why KIDmandment #9 addresses Money and Materialism.

Money Isn’t Meaning

Teaching children about the importance of pursuing what they love is something I consider to be one of a parent’s top ten responsibilities. So often we trick ourselves into believing that the amount of money we make is the indicator of our success. We reinforce the backwards belief that money provides meaning in our lives, when in reality it is the meaning behind the work that we do that leads to happiness. Sometimes we learn this lesson too late in life to pursue a path that will give us meaning, which is why our children need to learn this lesson while they are young. For more thoughts on Working From “Why,” check out my recent blog post.

Whenever possible, help your kids connect the dots between your job and what you love about it. For example, the next time you have a few minutes together, whether it’s dinner time or on the way to practice, tell them something specific about why you love what you do. Enthusiastically share a story, such as,

“I love my job because I love the way I get to make a difference by helping others. Just today, a teammate came by and told me about an issue that had been plaguing them for a while and together we were able to make it go away. I sure hope that you find a career someday that you love as much as I do!

The alternative would be dragging myself to work just to collect a paycheck and complaining to whoever will listen about how much I hate my job and how exhausted I am. I would be setting the wrong example. But when I wake up every day excited to pursue my passions and talk to my kids about the positive aspects of my career, it makes it easy for them to see the positive effects on my life and the work I do.

Action Item: If you hate your job, do your kids and yourself a favor and find something that provides you energy rather than sucking the life out of you!

Set the Right Example

Great parents teach their children to respect money at an early age. A good way to do this is to teach them how to earn their own spending money. Teaching this skill builds pride and shows them the value of a dollar. I figure if you are going to spend money on your kids anyway, why not turn the tables around, pay them to do things around the house, and then let them pay for some of their own clothes, movies, video games, etc.

But there is more to the lesson than just earning money. After they get paid, I suggest you develop some sort of house rules regarding what to do with it. For example, we have always asked the kids to put 10% aside for tithing, 40% for saving, and then let them spend the other 50% any way they want. This teaches them the full cycle of making, saving, spending, and giving all in a transaction that you are doing everyday anyway!

I know things are different than when we grew up, but one of the things that my Dad did that I thought was brilliant was the way he paid us. Of course we had to work for our money; there was no free ride in our house. But what he did that taught us so much was that after we made our money, instead of taking some old money out of his pocket, he would pay us in brand new two dollar bills or Susan B. Anthony coins or bicentennial quarters still in their wrappers, anything beautiful that we wouldn’t want to spend.

And by the way, don’t get tricked into believing you are doing your children any favors by giving them whatever they want. That sets a bad example and makes them think that happiness comes from material possessions. I’d rather buy the kids what they need and show them the value of a dollar than buy a bunch of junk hoping to bring some sort of short term happiness to them via a meaningless present.

Gratitude Is the Antidote to Materialism

Natural Parenting and Fatherhood advises that to fight against the tide and raise children appreciative without materialism, parents need to teach gratitude.

“You can teach gratitude in many ways: by helping children write thank you notes for birthday and Christmas gifts, by exposing children to people who are much less fortunate than themselves, and by teaching children to count their blessings daily — to name a few.”

I couldn’t agree more. Kids who have always been given what they want are more inclined to struggle with money in the real world. Giving guidance, rewarding hard work, and teaching gratitude are all ways in which parents can provide children with the tools to seek happiness by pursuing what they love, rather than chasing the money they think will bring them bliss.

We teach our kids to keep a gratitude journal, either a hard copy or through an app like Evernote. They don’t always do it, but it is something we talk about often, and I always share my journal entries with them hoping in time it is something they will do regularly without being asked.

How do you teach your kids the difference between money and meaning? Tweet @JeffOddo to share your tips!