5 Personal Finance Lessons From The Pursuit of Happyness

By glblguy


1 Timothy 6:10 – “The love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil”

We don’t frequently watch movies. In our effort to cut back on expenses and be more frugal we pretty much eliminated renting from our budget. While visiting with my wife’s parents last weekend, they highly recommended The Pursuit of Happiness.

Given we hadn’t rented a movie in forever, we decided to give it a try. Turns out, it lived up to it’s promise and then some. It’s an outstanding movie that contains a number of important life and financial lessons. Here’s just a few that really stuck with me:

1. Never put all of your money in one basket

Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) spent all of his money buying a bunch of portable bone scanners that he was convinced would make him rich. He made the mistake of risking everything he had financially in the hopes of becoming rich. There are lots of “bone scanners” in the world offering the lure of riches for a “minor investment”. Don’t bet the whole farm, and do your homework. Remember, most people don’t get rich overnight and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Never give up and remain fixed on the goal

Chris Gardner never gave up. He decided what he wanted to do and went for it. Even though his motivations for being in the stock market weren’t the correct ones, it did end up working out for him.

Chris’ story proves that if you remain fixed on a goal, and attack it with passion, you can reach that goal. This is true for saving millions, getting out of debt, owning your own company, etc. Remember though, it generally requires a great deal of hard work and can take a long time.

3. Motivation and Attitude go a long way

Chris had motivation, he had to feed and care for his child. Having to feed your child is probably about the strongest motivation I can think of. Chris’ son (played by Will’s real-life son Jaden) reminded him daily of his need to succeed and get control of his life.

Not only did Chris have motivation, he had an incredible attitude and was confident in himself. If not for his confidence and attitude he most likely would have never become the successful stock broker he ended up being, much less even made it into the internship.

4. Sacrifice in the short term to gain in the long

The movie showed Chris staying up all night fixing broken medical machines, studying and watching over his son. I slept little, but did what he had to do. Chris knew that sacrificing in the short term would lead to a long term reward. It did.

The same holds true in our personal finance lives, we must sacrifice in the short term to gain in the long. As Dave Ramsey would say, we must “live like no one else so we can live like no one else”. Live on less than you earn, get out of debt, and begin saving. These are all short term sacrifices for the promise of being wealthy later. Chris knew this.

5. Never think you can’t do something

In one of the most powerful scenes of the movie, Chris tells his son that he can’t do something. After a few moments reflecting, he again looks at his son and says “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, not even me.”

If we think we can’t do something, chances are we won’t; however if we believe that we can, the chances of us succeeding go way up. The more you believe, the higher your chances.

Do you believe you can be wealthy? Retire early? Get out of Debt? Start your own business? Maybe you should.


As great as I thought the movie was, the overall message was a little troublesome for me. The movie title is “The Pursuit of Happyness” but the story is about Chris’ pursuit of money and wealth. I am not a believer that money buys happiness. It can certainly make things easier, but it can’t make you happy. What is interesting is a question Chris’ son asks his father. I won’t go into details, as I don’t want to spoil the movie, but Chris’ son asks him if they could go back to one of their worst times during the film. Ironically enough, this was a time Chris was the most unhappy, and his son was the most happy. They had no money at the time, yet that is the best time his son remembered.

What are you in pursuit of that will make you happy? Have you seen the movie?

15 Responses (including trackbacks) to “5 Personal Finance Lessons From The Pursuit of Happyness”

  1. Pinyo Says:

    It’s one of those great movies we haven’t seen yet (since we canceled out Netflix). I guess we will see it eventually. Thanks for sharing, those are really good points you’ve highlighted.

  2. Laura Says:

    I watched that over my in-laws place and I cried. The book that the movie is based on goes into more detail, but overall I loved the movie.

  3. ChristianPF Says:

    I agree it was a great movie with a lot of good messages woven into it. I too wish they would have emphasized that you can have joy in life regardless of what your circumstances look like. Honestly, being a stockbroker for a huge financial firm doesn’t equate to happiness to me, regardless of the salary.

  4. Mrs. Micah Says:

    Like ChristianPF, I wouldn’t want to be a stock broker. But I would want to feel like I was able to care for my child, provide him a place to live, and all that stuff he was having trouble doing. When you’re below the poverty line, more money does mean more happiness. Once you get the basics covered, however, it stops correlating.

  5. Ryan Healy Says:

    I liked this movie, but it also had me tied up in knots on the inside. It’s stressful (for me) to see the natural out-workings of money problems.

    I had a similar experience reading the case studies in Debt-Free Living. The real-life stories stressed me out. Of course, they had happy endings, but as I read, I experienced the pain of the situation the people were in… almost as if I were there myself.

  6. glblguy Says:

    @Pinyo – You should watch it,really good.

    @Laura – I saw the book over on Amazon and added it to my reading list.

    @ChristianPF – I agree, wouldn’t want to be a broker either.

    @Mrs. Micah – Interesting point. I guess I was thinking it met less stress/worry, which would probably equate to happiness.

    @Ryan – I completely agree. It’s one of those movies where it’s painful to watch, but when it’s over your glad you did. I think everyone NEEDS to watch it though.

  7. Realitybytes Says:

    My mother disliked it. It seemed to suggest that money was the be all of existence. Ideas like community and charity aren’t really present in it.

  8. glblguy Says:

    @Realitybytes – I agree on your comment about money focus, but Mrs. Micah makes a good point. Regarding Charity, I disagree, the movie showed a number of support/charity groups helping him out.

  9. Frogdancer Says:

    He was living my own personal nightmare….

    When I first left my husband I had 4 kids under 5. We were never homeless… I was able to buy my ex out of the house and I hung onto it through hell and high water. Still, we had very lean times where I’d wonder if we could make it.

    Now, the kids look at me and say, “Mum, remember when we were poor?” Those stressful days are now part of our family story. I don’t agree with the people who criticise the movie, saying that it glorifies money over charity and other warm snuggly feelings. My perspective is that there is no higher priority than to financially care for your family. If you can’t feed, clothe and house your own children, how can you ever hope to help others? Charity begins at home. (Just don’t wait till you accumulate a billion dollars before you begin helping others. Moderation in all things!!!)

  10. Realitybytes Says:

    It just seems that at the margins, you have to slit throats until you get to the point where you can have a roof over head. Until then, there is no charity. There is no community. Why is it all “grab that cash with both hands”, until you have a roof over your head. Something about that either terrifies me or disgusts me. Not sure which.