Think Twice: Will Doubling Your Paycheck Really Make You Happier?

04/17/2015 03:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015


On Monday, Gravity Payments founder Dan Price surprised his 120-person staff by telling them he would use his own salary and company profits to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk over the next three years to a minimum of $70,000. His generous offer will more than double the salary of some employees. At first glance this unexpected bounty seems like a great thing for those people. But is it?

Price suggests the reason he made this move to increase the salaries of employees is to address the growing pay inequality issue after reading an article on happiness that clearly pointed out the difference making a $70,000 income would make in people's lives.

Yes, Price's noble action will make a difference in the lives of his staff, their families and their communities. It will make a positive difference in their ability to buy a home, take a vacation or send a child to college.

Of course, some members of the media have already questioned Mr. Price's motives, calling it a publicity stunt. Rather than the publicity stunt that some media have claimed, I believe Price's act could be the work of a pure business genius and pioneer. Perhaps, just perhaps, Price has commanded the attention needed to start a conversation and create a new movement around pay equity. I sure hope so.

And Mr. Price would certainly know what more money can mean. His success with Gravity Payments is somewhat of a great American success story. He started the company in his dorm room at the age of 19 in 2004 with seed money from his older brother. From that meager beginning, he and his staff have grown the company to a point where Gravity processed $6.5 billion in transactions for 12,000 businesses last year, and expected to net $2.2 million in profits this year.

But what if having more money could actually be a hindrance for people? Is it possible that making enough money could be a hurdle that keeps people from exploring what would really make them happy and successful in this life?

Money will not buy happiness

While Price's gesture will indeed add more money to the paychecks of his employees and possibly start a national conversation about pay equity, contrary to popular belief, the money alone -- however much he chooses to pay out -- will not guarantee his employees' happiness. That is because happiness is a feeling that comes from a lot of sources in our lives, not just our paycheck.

For example, happiness is also associated with being in a role every day that we are a good fit for, one where we get to use our talents and gifts to their fullest. But sadly, all the best research on the subject says that only one person in five, by their own admission, gets to do what they do best every day.

So, let's think about this. If only one in five are doing what they are meant to do, there is a good chance that at least some (perhaps a sizable majority) of Mr. Price's employees are in the wrong job, and a fatter paycheck won't fix that. In fact, for those employees, more money is actually a trap. That is why they call money and all that comes with it "the trappings of success."


You may think I am nuts, but I am speaking from experience. I found myself trapped in a job that paid handsomely and yet I was not happy because I did not feel I was making a significant difference in the world. Honestly, it takes courage to walk away from all of that. Paying me more money at that point in time would NOT have made me happier. Instead, it would have made me have at least some second thoughts about leaving and going out to find my true calling. In my case, more money only added to my feeling of being trapped. Believe me, feeling trapped is a far cry from feeling happy. What I discovered is that there wasn't enough money to solve that problem.

For Mr. Price's employees and others, more money may just stop them dead in their tracks, and keep them from taking the important steps they need to take to make positive changes in their life. And let me be clear: I am certain this is not the intended outcome of Mr. Price's generous gesture. I believe Mr. Price truly wants to improve the lives of his employees. To do this, he should take steps to ensure the money positively impacts his employees' lives in the ways he envisioned. How could he do that? Well, he could start by engaging his employees in this important conversation (perhaps after the euphoria of the pay raise dies down a bit).

You are unique and so is your definition of happiness.

Don Clifton, a positive psychology pioneer and the inventor of the StrengthsFinder used to say that "everybody does at least ONE THING better than ten thousand other people. That's the good news. The bad news? Most people have no idea what that ONE THING is."

The truth is YOU are a complex human being with unique DNA and a distinctive blend of values, motivation, personality, behavioral preferences, talents, strengths, interests, habits, personal goals, and aspirations. I refer to this blend as your wiring. Your wiring guarantees that what works for me won't work for you and vice versa. It also guarantees that what someone else thinks is good for your life is not likely to work. No one can tell you what will make you happy. You have to discover it for yourself.

You are unique, and because of that, your place in the world and your ONE THING are unique. The problem is, as Don Clifton points out, that most people cannot articulate this for themselves without some help.

So, here are five steps you (and Mr. Price's employees) can take to find your one thing:

1. Decide you really deserve to be happy. You must first decide your happiness is worth the time and effort to explore all of your options. Self-awareness is hard work. Be honest. Tune out what other people think you need to be happy and decide for yourself.

2. Get crystal clear on what you really want and why. Honestly evaluate and envision what is important to you in the major areas of your life. I call these your 8 pillars. They include your health, money, relationships, service, time, gratitude, spirituality, and career. Is more money really enough or do you need something more or different?

3. Know your starting point. Gain a firm knowledge of your wiring so that you will know if the job you are in today is a good fit for you. To enact positive change, you must know yourself first. Recommended assessments include the DISC and Clifton's Strengths Finder.

4. Create an actionable plan. Your action plan is the bridge between your starting point and your desired future. Write down the high-level steps you need to take, and then break them down into manageable actions you can take over the next 90 days.

5. Take focused action. The real secret to any change is to take focused action. You will have to get off the couch if you plan on having the better life you dream of. If you struggle with accountability, hire a life coach or find an accountability partner to help you. You alone are responsible for taking the actions to design your ideal life. Designing Your Ideal Life provides a guide to lead you through the process of self-discovery.

Let's start a national conversation about designing your ideal life

I commend Mr. Price on the action he is taking, and I believe it is a positive first step and hopefully the first word in a much-needed national conversation on pay equity. That alone will make a significant difference in many lives. But, more money is just not enough to guarantee happiness for employees. More money will not get the 80 percent into a job that fits them best. We need to change the conversation about what success really means.

And, yes, if Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs tells us anything, it is that it is hard (maybe near impossible) to have a higher order conversation about anything when you don't have enough resources to do the basic things. Mr. Price has taken care of that issue for his people now.

Other employers should follow. And hard on the heels of a fair pay raise should be a true dialogue about how to help people find their ONE THING and spend their days doing it with the joy that true success can bring.