08/05/2013 04:48 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2013

Dreaming the Wrong Dream

"If only I had ____, I'd be so happy."

How would you fill in the blank? A house on the lake, a Mercedes, a facelift, plastic surgery, a winning lottery ticket, a figure like a swimsuit model?

While we may not voice these thoughts to friends and family, when we dream of how our life could be better, many of us have a list in our heads of what we think it would take to make us truly happy. And most of us are wrong.

Michael Jones was one of those people. When he was 40 years old, he had everything he thought he ever wanted. He was married with three children and running a profitable healthcare company he founded. He had fulfilled a dream he had nourished and worked hard for since childhood -- to achieve financial success.

"What I thought would be a mountaintop experience that would carry me through the rest of my life lasted about three days," Jones said in a recent interview in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I felt like maybe I was dreaming the wrong thing."

Many people, from lottery winners to people who obtained everything they thought they ever wanted, have experienced that same short-lived happiness and the let down they felt soon after achieving their dream. Turns out, the dream they had so carefully nurtured wasn't what they needed to be fulfilled after all.

Being confused about what makes you happy is one of the five barriers that prevent people from using their wealth to live the lives they desire that I discuss in my book, Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life.

We think that a straighter nose, a shiny new car or a fat bank account will make us happy. But research, and many stories similar to Michael's, reveal that once we have a stable lifestyle, meaning our basic needs are met, the three keys of lasting happiness aren't about money or things. Rather, happiness stems from: (1) having quality relationships, (2) feeling engaged in the world and (3) making a difference in the lives of others.

So when we do obtain what we thought we wanted in the realm of material objects or physical changes, it might give us short-term pleasure, but it doesn't lead to long-term happiness. That is why people like Michael are left feeling empty soon after achieving their dreams.

Michael Jones's story has a happy ending. In his efforts to be fulfilled he took his signature talents, his wisdom from years of business experiences, his time, and his network to create something that will help thousands of people and empower them to live better lives.

He started a fair-trade coffee company and shop called THRIVE Farmers Coffee to ensure that coffee farmers get a fair share of the profits from their crops. The New York Times featured THRIVE in a recent article, "Coffee's Economics, Rewritten by Farmers."

Michael couldn't be happier. As he told the AJC reporter, "This feeds my soul."

Will your dream feed yours?