Peter Singer provides us with an alternative way of looking at money and the sacrifices we make in his book The Most Good We Can Do. He suggests that we change the way we look at money and begin to better understand our relationships with money. Ultimately, what is suggested is that we begin to devalue money and it’s importance in our lives relative to other finite resources that we may give up in exchange for the opportunity or the ability to make more money. Singer writes,
“Money, however, is not an intrinsic good. Rather than saying that something is a sacrifice if it will cause you to have less money, it would be more reasonable to say that something is a sacrifice if it causes you to have a lower level of well-being, or in a word, be less happy.”
What he first establishes in his quote is the idea that money is not a given and set construct of the human experience. It is a social measurement used to organize people into an economic system, and it is a byproduct of many social factors including, hard work, luck, creativity, and progress. Singer explains money as something separate from our own happiness and our true experience. This has the effect of moving money to a secondary tier in our lives rather than a primary goal. By seeking out a lifestyle that provides us with more well-being, flexibility, and happiness, as Singer’s quote suggests, we can adopt a lifestyle where our money is a secondary goal that follows in line with our efforts.
His quote does not seem to suggest that money is not important or that we should adopt vagabond lifestyles that don’t require us to work or earn money, but it simply makes money less of an important factor. If we focus on what will help us be more happy we can move in a direction that may not be as lucrative in the long run, but may provide us with greater flexibility and comfort, which will have a positive impact on our well-being and that of our families. He is almost suggesting a direct approach to well-being with an oblique approach to wealth building, which is more or less the opposite of the way most of us think. We often set out on a direct path to earn more and make more, which we believe will make us happier. Happiness is sought after in an oblique manner because our primary goals are greater wealth and greater consumerism with the hopes of building happiness. Singer would argue that we should seek well-being and understand sacrifices in terms of values outside of money to reach a lifestyle that is comfortable and productive. In this view, once we reach that level, the money will suffice and our lives will be more enjoyable and based around things that add more value to our lives than stress.