Citrine and the Cost of Happiness: How Conflating Money with Success Keeps Us All Trapped
If citrine is supposed to bring you abundance, what might it bring if you didn’t need so much wealth in our capitalist hellscape?
In the late ’90s, the worst thing you could do was sell out. As children, we didn’t have anything to sell, much less anyone to sell it to, but we spat the insult like venom whenever someone did something we deemed “too mainstream,” even within our eighth-grade halls. You were a sellout if you went to the wrong park, if you shopped at the wrong places, if you got lunch from the wrong deli—I can’t even remember all the rules now. I was called a sellout for listening to pop punk. Or, rather, the bands I liked were sellouts, and I was a sellout-by-proxy. But the bands I listened to also complained about sellouts, either by name or just by genre.
Absent a dictionary definition, I gathered that the biggest complaint was that these people made money. No one stopped to specify the difference between making money and maintaining your integrity, or completely changing your sound and vision solely for the promise of cash. Then again, I’m not sure there was a difference to the accusers: Money, fame, all the traditional trappings of success were viewed with suspicion.
But in 1997, Everclear briefly—and probably unintentionally—hit back against this idea in their song “I Will Buy You A New Life.” The song is a promise to an ex that things will get better, a dream of the life she and the singer will have when he saves enough to pay for it. In it, Art Alexakis sneers at anyone who’d look down on doing it for the money: I hate those people who love to tell you / money is the root of all that kills / They have never been poor / They have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas
It’s one of those instances in which everyone was right. Alexakis was right to call out those who would criticize materialism from their comfortable perches, who didn’t understand everything held within the promise of being able to provide a “perfect, shiny and new” house to someone they loved. But money was still the root of all that killed; its existence, and the lack of it, was what led to the “welfare Christmas.” And the conflation of success with wealth still keeps us all trapped.
Citrine, clear with shades of yellow and brown like a crackling sun, is known as both the “success stone” and the “merchant’s stone.” It’s known for its “properties of wealth and abundance,” according to Energy Muse. At the same time, “everything about this stone emanates positivity and joy,” implying that happiness, money, success and abundance are all the same. If you want one, surely it will come with the rest.
In our modern capitalist hellscape, it’s hard to know what success looks like without money. Success means graduating from college, which costs money to attend. In my work, I gather that I’m successful if someone wants to pay me for my words. Success is winning a contest. Success is buying gifts for those you love. Success is a promotion. Falling in love, cherishing a friend, feeling emotionally fulfilled—those are the successes that aren’t quite recognized, aren’t quite believed. Sure, they’re great, but wouldn’t they be even better with money behind them? With a stable job? You wouldn’t have to worry. In other words: You’re happy, but you’d be happier with all that and money, too.
In my high school, everyone I knew was college-bound. Nobody ever said they weren’t going to go. If they had, I think we would have looked at them like they had five heads. Our college counselor often espoused that college was a “match to be made, not a prize to be won,” a gentler way of saying that not everyone was cut out to get an MBA from an Ivy League school. It was a phrase cousin to things our loving, liberal parents often told us: Nothing else matters as long as you’re happy. Figure out what you want to do, follow your passion; life isn’t worth living unless you do what you love.
That came with some caveats. What made you happy couldn’t involve not going to college. Figuring out what you wanted to do had to come from declaring a major, studying hard, and making sure you could at least have a degree “to fall back on” if your passion didn’t work out. You can’t do what you love without money to support yourself, we were told—and in fact, you’ll know you’re successful when you have enough to quit your job and do what you love.
This was good, practical advice for the world we lived in. Our parents wanted us to have options. They wanted us to live happy lives, meaning lives free from worry. The happiness would come with security, with safety, with the best chance for a fat bank account. We may have all pretentiously wanted to be starving artists, but our parents knew you can’t actually make art on an empty stomach.
When I graduated with an English degree cum laude, into an economy that was about to crash, I was encouraged to write—but also to find a job in public relations. Mentors and peers told me that it involved a lot of writing, so I could put my skills to good use, and it would be a more reliable way to earn a paycheck than just trying to find writing gigs. I was more likely to quickly save up and move out of my mom’s apartment that way, to reach the success of living on my own and paying my own bills. I was lucky I had the safety net, of course, but it came with a cast of shame: If I stayed at home too long I would become a leech, a lazy person asking for handouts. If success was living on my own, failure was reliance—asking for help from those who could provide it.
I couldn’t find a practical job in PR, because by the time I started applying it was 2009 and also they could probably tell I wasn’t very good at it. I worked as a waitress, a shop clerk, as one of those people who asks you if you have time for the environment on the sidewalk. I got an unpaid writing internship that turned paid. I shared a too-small apartment with only one closet because it was a steal. Nothing felt stable, and when nothing is stable, stability starts looking a lot like joy. Joy became leaving a writing job because of burnout for a full-time job in a field I didn’t want to be in, but that enforced 9-to-5 hours. Joy became having a partner who was miserable at their engineering job, but who made more than I ever would. Things were good, we told ourselves. This is what success looks like.
I’m not saying there’s no value in hard work and saving up, only that we’ve tied wealth, success, and happiness so tightly together it’s impossible to tell which is which.
I’ve developed nerve pain in my jaw. At first it was just in one spot if I tapped it too hard, and now it sometimes tingles all over my face. I know part of it is stress. I clench my jaw when I scroll through Twitter and see we’re at risk of Roe v. Wade being overturned, of people being allowed to deny services and resources to the marginalized. It cost twenty dollars to see my doctor about the pain, and I’m waiting to see how much an MRI and a visit to the neurologist will be. But if I’m unwell, I can’t focus on work. If I can’t work, I can’t do the thing that makes me happy. My health and my happiness are directly tied to my bank account.
Suicide rates have risen in America since 1999, and according to the CDC, nearly half of those who died by suicide had no recorded mental health diagnosis. Instead, the CDC suggests other influencing factors: “job, money, legal, or housing stress.” Access to these things is what brings us stability and safety and happiness, and what’s keeping so many people from them aren’t their own choices, but things beyond their immediate control. Governments, economies, prejudices. The sickness is seeping in from the outside. Without a job, without healthcare for your pre-existing conditions, without a safe place to live, how on earth can you be expected to be happy?
There exists the concept of relative happiness, that people in poor societies will find ways to be happy just as people in rich ones do; that money isn’t the deciding factor when it comes to emotional and spiritual abundance. There is truth in that. I’m happier since I left my 9-to-5 job and entered the incredibly unstable media world, even if it’s already come with sudden layoffs and, now, a permanent freelance situation. I can say my partner is happier after quitting engineering and devoting themselves to cartooning, even though there were years when the money was tight. But you know what didn’t feel good? Getting a $1,900 medical bill for a preventative procedure. Losing a rent check in the mail and having to pay double at once. In those moments, I’m always asking myself if we could have just done it for the money.
During the Capricorn full moon, many witches noted it was a time to call for stability and wealth; to put money on your altar and cast spells for more. That struck me—the obvious connection between the spiritual and the tangible, the treating of money as a condition as natural as family or sex or the human body. Not a manmade object, but a cosmic truth.
But if there were no such thing as money, what would this particular magic look like? What is a spell for success if there are no bills to pay? If citrine is supposed to help bring you abundance, what might it bring if you didn’t need wealth? I want to know what that kind of success looks like, but I don’t think I ever will.