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The long journey to the middle

|Written By David Samuel

I can’t wait for you to get to the end of this article. You just may be happier for the rest of your life. So I’m going to make this quick.

You know how in law school, there’s pressure to get a Badass Job in a Big City but there aren’t enough for all of us? I wrote a set of four personal guidelines of conduct to avoid having to deal with disappointment. Here is that list:

1. Get awesome marks.

This was also guideline numbers 2, 3, and 4.

But that plan was stupid, so I overhauled it.

Here’s the problem with it: it’s premised on the idea that getting a Badass Job is valuable largely because there’s so much competition for them. Ever read those articling guides and notice beside “number of articling students hired last year,” the numbers 0 to 2? And then an indicated salary of $1,400/week? Very attractive indeed. That setup makes me rethink even writing this article.

Why is there so much competition for those jobs?

Aside from salary, many may have an ambitious drive to succeed and get what is apparently the most coveted things in life — and to be sure, many do and I admire them deeply. But we’d also be deceiving ourselves to think that a ridiculously high income isn’t really, really, really attractive. What would you do with $1,400 a week (starting income!)?

Look at the benefits: a bank refill every couple of weeks, buying clothes, that car, trips — right away. Getting the bill when you and your friends go out for beers. A new triathlon bike. Gives you a feeling in your gut. Yeah right there. That’s my old plan winning you over.

Don’t get sidetracked. Money can change a lot of things — especially what you own. But it can’t change you.

Money didn’t even exist until we invented it. Obviously, it gets you security, a home, transportation, food, and those things do make you happy. But beyond that, it doesn’t do much. Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either. Because I really like expensive stuff. Seriously.

Some people’s jobs are to find out what makes people happy. Let’s see what they say about income. The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research did a study on 88,000 people in 46 countries over 17 years. And what do they say? They say that income affects happiness very little.

How little? On a scale of one to 10* for both happiness and income: increasing your income from a four to a five increases your happiness 0.1 point. Going from a nine to a 10 on the income scale increases happiness 0.01 points. Interesting.

Maybe those high-income jobs are just better jobs content-wise. But this also isn’t the case. Data from Daniel Goleman’s “social intelligence” reports on a survey of over 500 companies, concluded the No. 1 predictor of employment satisfaction had nothing to do with income; it was whether you worked with a best friend.

The reports also found that no salary could offset the effects of a toxic boss. My psychology undergrad motivation textbook says the “erasure of the work/play” dichotomy is also key.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell says job satisfaction equals complex work that yields results the worker can see, as long as that work is done by an autonomous and uncoerced individual.

Show me the money?

I have a millionaire friend. One time in his huge basement — which I kid you not, had a separate room for his Winnie the Pooh memorabilia collection — I lamented on being 23 and poor and his million dollars. He said something that changed me forever: “I’m no happier than you are.”

I thought about it. It was true. I thought I needed a million dollars to have the experiences I was already having on $500 per month.

Bottom line: a big part of being happy has to do with the social intricacies of your work, and a lot less to do with your income. You only get average marks; you don’t get the jackpot job. And you have a binder full of rejection letters. Who cares? It only becomes a disappointment the moment you choose to suffer.

*For the (over)critically thinking readers who demand operational definitions for “one” and “10”, I have a message for you : yeah, yeah, yeah, settle down and stop being like that. You’re missing the point being overly technical about something that’s fundamentally emotional. But complain in the comments section below.

David Samuel is currently a third-year law student at the University of Saskatchewan and is editor-in-chief of the Caveat Lector. He can be reached at

  • The author\'s older sister

    Sky Lee
    Great article Dave!! It's refreshing to read an article based on happiness instead of despair. You certainly have a talent for relaying your message in an entertaining & often poignant method. I know your talent will transfer into anything that you do. You are right though, I am happy at my middle class social work job, even though I don't make millions. I echo what someone else wrote... It IS about the relationships and not so much about the moulah.
    By the way... Who is ur million dollar friend? I never met him, or did I?
  • Staff Lawyer

    Nilufa Husein
    Great Article! The deeper question one needs to ask themselves is do I want to get paid for the work I love doing or should I engage in work that I don't really love, but get paid for. It's unfair to compare incomes since what we earn is a poor indicator of the person we are. You are right, there is really no difference in the experiences of love, happiness or tragedy between those who earn high incomes and those of modest ones. The bottom line is that we all make our own choices depending on what is important to us, and niether ought to be judged.
  • sole practitioner

    Anne Gregory
    Loved your article about money not bringing happiness. Your ability to write is a gift. Hope you keep writing even after you become a lawyer. After practicing law for 18 years, I would add that the practice of law and the social status that comes with it (no matter what the income) does not bring hapiness in and of itself either. Happiness is an inside job - it is the result of good living - meaning being honest, being caring and helpful to those around you, taking care of yourself financially, emotionally, spirtually and physically and seeing your own gifts clearly - not what we wear, what we earn, who we are married to or what material things we have in our lives.
  • In the middle - 30 years down the road

    Maureen Towns
    An excellent article! You may not have meant to say it, but the essence of your message is - it's all about relationships. Keep up the good work and real-life perspective!