Let’s get right to it: Wealth and success do not bring happiness.

It’s the other way around. Happiness comes first.

But that sure can be hard to believe when you’re stressing over paying your bills, or the sudden dip in the stock market, or finding a job, funding your retirement, or making sure your kids have all of the best supplies.

Look at it this way: Have you ever tried to grow vegetables? You can have the best seeds, and all the right equipment. But if you haven’t prepared the soil first, you’re not likely to have much success.

In order to obtain a yield, you have start with a solid, healthy foundation. You have to have healthy soil.

Prepare the soil: Happiness comes first

Having stuff doesn’t make us happy, we all know that. While possessions don’t increase happiness, it turns out that experiences do. It’s easy, then, to say “well, then I need money to have those experiences!”

But do you really? Though a certain amount of money can make it easier to have those fantastic experiences that make life so amazing, it is not required.

Money is not a prerequisite for happiness.

The pivotal moments in my life, the phenomenal, life-changing experiences that bring a smile to my face whenever I think of them? Many of those happened while I was still making less than $18,000 a year!

I climbed the Great Wall of China. I rode my bike 3600 miles across the US. I spent many weekends in the Adirondacks, climbing mountains with friends. And I made time for relaxing afternoons reading a good book in the park.

The best week of my life happened when I was between jobs, earning nothing, with no money to my name. But that’s another story, for another time…

It was the cumulative result of all of these experiences that brought me the joy that made success and wealth possible. When you start with happiness, wealth follows naturally. When you start with wealth, happiness takes a whole lot more work.

Sure, there were hard times, too. Nothing says “poor” like figuring out how to get by on a food budget of $15 a week. I was close to applying for food stamps at that point. I had the forms filled out, sitting on my desk. But I knew that there were others in much more dire circumstances, often with children to feed. And I knew that I had the non-monetary resources to make things work.

In that moment, I made the decision to dig deep into my resourcefulness, and to harness the power of the incredible happiness that I had built for myself, regardless of my circumstances.

When you take care of yourself, and find a way to be healthy, happy, and whole without money, you’re a huge part of the way to achieving wealth.

What experiences stand out in your life as something that brings you lasting joy? Not just something pleasant. What experiences have left you with a lasting happiness?

What could you do right now, within your current budget, to add one more of those experiences to your life?

One more thing…

Sustainable prosperity means setting up a system. If you want to achieve financial independence, you need to automate your wealth. Otherwise, you’re trading time for dollars… and then you don’t have any time left to appreciate the dollars!

Creating your own happiness is the first step in setting up your system.

Until then, what do you think it might be? What else could you create in your life that will set the stage for prosperity? Write your answer in the comments below!