Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happiness Is....

What exactly is Happiness?

This blog is directed toward personal financial matters.   But what is the point of balancing your checkbook or getting out of debt?  Financial security is one thing you may need to achieve happiness.  But what is happiness, exactly, and how do you achieve it?

Studies abound that show that the more money you make, you do not necessarily become more happy.  Many people in middle-income brackets report a greater sense of satisfaction and self-worth than people with a lot of money.  And Americans do not rank first in surveys of happiness worldwide, even though we are a very wealthy country.

So happiness is not all about money, clearly.  So what is it that makes one happy, anyway?

I think it is, in part, freedom from worry and stress.  And this comprises a number of elements, including, but not limited to:

1.  Freedom from fear and financial worry.

2.  Freedom from Pain.

3.  A sense of worth and productivity.

The first element is what this blog is all about - getting out of debt, setting money aside, and having your financial house in order.  Once you have "money in the bank" it is not automatic that you will be happy - but it makes it easier.

The second, I spoke of before.  Being in pain is no fun, and frankly, is depressing.  Being healthy and not in pain is a second element that makes being happy easier.

But it is the last element that I think is most telling.  People have an innate need to work and be productive and feel that they contribute something.  When you work hard, the money you take home is earned, and no one can tell you that you didn't deserve it.  There is a great satisfaction from a hard day of work, and that cold beer at the end of such a day tastes better than no other.

Inherited wealth, or lottery winnings, or other unearned wealth, carries with it a very high price, in terms of depression.  I knew a lot of "old money" types in places I grew up in, and by and large they were not very happy people.  Giving someone money without work makes them uneasy.

And this explains also why people on welfare are not likely to be happy with the money they receive - or why old people on Social Security insist on saying that "they paid into the system" and now they are taking out "their money" - even though they take out far more than they ever paid in, with interest.  No one wants to admit that they are "on the dole" so to speak.

And I expect the same is true for criminals - probably not a happy lot, despite their gansta posings.  Easy money is too easy.

But the middle class guy, who works a hard job, takes home a modest pay, has little or no debts, pays his bills on time, and has a secure financial future - he is more likely to be happier than the millionaire who inherited his wealth.

To be sure, there are likely other things that trigger our brains to be "happy".  And status is likely one of them.  We think that having a "Luxury SUV" will make us happy, as it will convey status.  Particularly when we are younger, we tend to think that buying things or accumulating status (and it comes in a number of flavors, besides raw materialism) will convey happiness.  But it is a happiness that is short-lived and often has a real cost in terms of long-term happiness.

I guess, in a way, it is like drugs and alcohol.  You might get a "high" from status - whether it is a new car or a job promotion - but you quickly crash from it.  Things like a balanced checkbook and money in the bank might not provide that "rush" of a status "high", but are more enduring and likely to result in longer-term happiness.

One thing I am learning over the last few decades, is that things I thought would make me happy - or more precisely, things that society said should make me happy (things that I never really bought into) turned out to be false.  Getting the big job, the big promotion, the big paycheck, etc. were not what made me happy.  A brand new car was not nearly as much fun as an old one that I could tinker with in my garage.

And I am finding that less is more.  Owning less things makes me happy, as it is less things to worry about and maintain and store, organize and worry about.

Perhaps this posting is a bit rambling.  That may be because all of this sort of came to me in a dream last most of these postings seem to do.