April 17, 2024

The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.
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Posted September 7, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
When we’re unable to feel secure, our inborn disposition is to be haunted by anxiety. Whether situationally or existentially, in being scared for our safety, we subliminally experience a serious threat to our survival. And in this state of psychic emergency, independent of whether our fears are reality-based, we certainly aren’t going to contemplate our happiness.
At such times, any joyful state is barely conceivable. For we’re totally focused on attaining some sense of safety—and, if possible, maybe some peace of mind, too.
Unquestionably, then, an essential prerequisite to happiness is security. On a literal level, that means feeling safe from attack both in and outside our living quarters. On another, more psychological level, it involves feeling that others, particularly our friends, family, and cohorts, are trustworthy—not just to be there for us physically but also to support us mentally and emotionally.
For we all need to feel understood, empathized with, and validated. And if we’re constantly afraid of being disapproved of or rejected, any personal security will continue to elude us.
Crucial issues of trust begin shortly after we take our first breath. If, as an infant, our mother wasn’t attuning to us and wasn’t able to adequately meet our core need for maternal connection, the seeds of security might never have taken firm root within us.
As many writers have conceptualized, if your caretaker’s response to you couldn’t allay your dependency-based fears of abandonment, your environment-monitoring amygdala would respond by releasing cortisol—the stress-induced, fight-or-flight hormone.
Moreover, without receiving the external reassurance required to resolve this disturbing state of alarm, you couldn’t down-regulate your parasympathetic nervous system, enabling you to remain open and curious—versus out-of-control, overwhelmed, and shut down.
The worst part of all this is that contingent on your innate emotional reactivity, it’s possible that merely a single instance of a parent “losing it” with you and leaving you frightened could prematurely lead you to conclude that the whole world was unsafe. And, romantic or otherwise, that distrustful conclusion could wreak havoc on your later relationships.
While, at least in this country, experts routinely characterize insecurity as virtually synonymous with financial security, it’s really the emotional insecurity initially stemming from unresolved developmental problems that lies at the heart of an adult’s hard-to-alter (and typically exaggerated) insecurities.
In short, issues of personal insecurity don’t just center on having a roof over your head or enough food on the table. It’s far more complex than that. Doubtless, if you’re reduced to living on the street, then even if you’re so self-deluded as to imagine you’re secure, objectively, you’re vulnerable to all kinds of hazardous outer forces.
But what most needs to be emphasized is that you could feel vulnerable even if your surroundings are completely safe. For it’s not simply what you might be at the mercy of; it’s primarily how you perceive the world that determines how secure you’ll feel in it.
Reporting for the Los Angeles Times, Kathy Kristof reflects—in a piece called “Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Security Either” (2005)—“Not rich? Thank your lucky stars. The rich have a better-than-even chance of being unhappy.” In referring to a study on the exceptionally affluent, she notes that in these households, almost a third of those having assets exceeding $10 million complained that money created more problems for them than satisfactions.
Another third asserted (albeit irrationally) that they constantly worried about having enough money. And that to be more secure, respondents in all wealth categories felt they needed to have twice as much as they already possessed (!).
Get the picture? Clearly, the issue ends up being more emotional or psychological than financial. That is, by itself, no amount of wealth can alter unconscious, firmly entrenched forebodings a person might have about themselves.
Subsequent writers have viewed the situation of ample wealth more positively. Even so, this cautionary note remains valid.
Viewing financial security as pertaining mostly to how you use your money (i.e., investing versus spending), Dan Buettner, in an Atlantic interview, makes some compelling points: He postulates that after you’ve applied your money to handle key needs (and maybe offer yourself an indulgence or two so you don’t feel deprived), you’ll feel much more secure if you spend the money that’s still left on paying down your mortgage, buying different kinds of (just-in-case) insurance, or arranging for an automatic savings plan. And such expenditures contrast sharply with acquiring things you might immediately enjoy but, monetarily, can’t really justify.
Another exploration into the seminal aspects of well-being discusses financial security as exemplifying a direct link between happiness and income. Curiously, people earning less than $100,000 yearly need much less additional money to experience a positive shift. Here, abbreviated, is the breakdown—and it’s suggestive:
In households earning $15,000-$30,000, an additional $18,750 would be needed to create a positive shift in well-being; but in households earning $150,000-$250,000, the next higher well-being point would necessitate an augmentation of $147,000.
Strangely enough, these two supplementary amounts would appear proportionate. But more than anything else, what’s implied is that at much higher income levels, the pursuit of money mirrors not need but, frankly, greed. So, as best encapsulated millennia ago by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
To complete the picture of money’s buying security and well-being, two additional studies might be mentioned here, despite such subjective reports being suspect since they may not genuinely reflect what social scientists regard as “long-lasting” happiness or contentment:
The first, undertaken in 2010 by researchers at Princeton University, found that making $75,000 a year represented the ideal income, meaning that it most closely relates to individuals’ financial satisfaction and emotional well-being .
Further, making a higher sum—like $100,000—made no difference in their happiness level, whereas making less than $75,000 was equated with lower levels of happiness and higher levels of stress, disappointment, and sadness.
The second study, undertaken in 2021, arrives at a quite different conclusion: That as a person’s income rises, so does their happiness. Period. This data, taken from a survey of over 33,000 adults and over 1.7 million sample reports, found a direct connection between higher income, better day-to-day feelings, and greater overall satisfaction with life.
In the end, probably the most warranted deduction to glean from these representative monetary experiments is that whatever amount best depicts the “sweet spot” for a particular individual is what for them best correlates with their values. To obtain happiness, they should have enough money to be able to buy not only enough material things but also the non-material experiences most meaningful to them.
Part 2 of this 3-part post will focus on other factors commonly tied to happiness, and part 3 will discuss the many things you can start doing right now to make yourself happier.
© 2022 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
Bunn, T. (2019, May 15). The good news and the bad news about feeling secure. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conquer-fear-flying/201905/the-…
Dieker, N. (2017, Oct 24). How important is financial security to happiness? https://www.thebillfold.com/2017/10/how-important-is-financial-security…
Hamblin, J. (2017, Oct 23). A lazy person’s guide to happiness. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/10/get-rid-of-everythin…
Kahneman, D. & Deaton, A. High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. https://www.pnas.org/doi/epdf/10.1073/pnas.1011492107
Killingsworth, M. A. (2021, Jan 18). Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016976118
Kristof, K. M. (2005, Jan 14). Money can’t buy happiness, security either. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2005-jan-14-fi-richpoll14-story…
Seltzer, L. F. (2012, Oct 17). Greed: The ultimate addiction. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201210/greed…
Zlatopolsky, A. (2021, Nov 24). How much money do you really need to be happy? https://www.health.com/money/how-much-money-do-you-need-to-be-happy
Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., is the author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy and The Vision of Melville and Conrad. He holds doctorates in English and Psychology. His posts have received over 49 million views.
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.


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