How to Find Happiness, Even When You’re Broke

Finance - Woman holding dollar bills pointing at copyspace

How do you define rich?

People often equate more money with more happiness, higher status, or increased security. Losing a job or not getting an expected promotion leaves many in a state of despair and weighed down by a feeling of lack.

A recent study found that how we define wealth is often dependent on our age, income, and occupation. Where we live in the world and our socioeconomic status can play a large part in how we define wealth and happiness.

Here in America we live in a society that perpetuates the more-is-better mentality. When we lose what we have or can’t maintain a certain standard of living, we tend to feel inadequate.

Analyzing our personal motives for the job we’re in, the path we’re pursuing, the things we buy, and the things we want can prove very revealing.

Are we trying to present a certain image, live up to a certain societal standard, or accumulate as much financial security as possible? How much money would it take to make us happy, secure, or content?

The bigger question is less why we put so much importance on having money and more What would we do if we lost it all?

It may be a hypothetical question to many of us, but for a large portion of the population it’s become a reality.

Homelessness and unemployment are realities affecting many. Losing a job is one of the major causes of depression and increases the risk for suicide.

Unemployment is a major challenge. It often requires changes in lifestyle, expectations, and rips off a label we’ve identified with for years.

This breaking down of what we have or what we know is an opportunity to break through.

There is now an empty space or void where there once was a job or a title. How we choose to fill that space mentally, physically, and energetically can make the difference between a happy or discontent state of being.

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl revealed the importance of finding meaning in life in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. His experience as an inmate in a concentration camp proved to be more than just an exercise in finding meaning in loss. His experience was one of finding meaning in an unimaginably horrific situation.

There is sobering truth in his famous quote:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The freedom he offers is dependent on responsibility. Taking responsibility for one’s own attitude and outlook.

To that end, when we look at our losses or life changes as beginnings, as opportunities, and find nuggets of meaning in the smallest details of life, we find the search becomes less external and more internal.

As Frankl says, “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Contentment is an internal state. It is not dependent on what we have or don’t have. While what we have can affect our superficial level of happiness, true contentment stems from a deeper state of acceptance, gratitude, and acknowledgement of our true value.

When I start to feel discontent or dissatisfied with what I have or superior or inferior to another human being, I bring myself back to reality by what I call the Emergency Room Equalizer.

When someone is taken to an emergency room in a life-or-death situation, no one asks for their job title or pay stub. Their clothes don’t matter, their money doesn’t matter, their education doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is their life. Keeping them alive.

We are all in an emergency room of sorts. We’ve got 80 or 90 years to live, and that’s not long. There is nothing more valuable than our lives and nothing more equalizing.

True prosperity comes from appreciating the quality of our life more than striving for quantity in our life. Most of us have our health, our families, and many years ahead of us. All of us have the breath in our lungs and the clothes on our back.

When we choose to find the meaning and see the value in our lives, we find that even when we are poor, we are rich. We can live full and fulfilling lives with very little.

Even if we haven’t lost our jobs, when we make efforts to simplify our lives we often find more contentment, less distraction, and a deeper sense of well-being.

Practices that bring us back to the home of our bodies and the true essence of who we are, such as yoga and meditation, are powerful tools for stepping into our present circumstances with an open mind. Below I share a link to author Shakti Gawain’s discussion on Creating True Prosperity, hosted on the conscious media platform of Gaiam TV, where she highlights the distinction between inner and outer prosperity.

A sense of contentment with what we have often opens the door to finding joy in the simplest aspects of life, regardless of how much or how little we have.

When we’re faced with limited resources, difficult circumstances, or the loss of a job, may we echo the words of American artist Henry Miller:

“I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”


418_CreatingTrueProsperityClick here to watch Creating True Prosperity

If money is the key to prosperity then material possession is the currency. Many people see prosperity as the acquisition of security, status, and wealth, which seem to equal admiration, freedom, and leisure. But money doesn’t always work the way that we think.

We sometimes forget that having a lot more doesn’t necessarily mean we struggle less. True prosperity comes from realizing and engaging what matters in life, not from accumulating things or building walls or images around us. Join Shakti Gawain in this fascinating and enlightening weigh-in between inner prosperity and material prosperity.

You can get hundreds of yoga and meditation videos for free by starting a 10-Day trial with GaiamTV:


How do you find happiness, even in the wake of financial hardship? Please share your comments below.