3/23/2012 1:03 PM ET|
How much do you need to be happy?
Does more money mean more happiness? In a keeping-up-with-the-Kardashians culture, the answer might not be that simple.
In this economy, it seems everyone has something to complain about. People feel they don't make enough money, they pay too much in taxes, they're angry about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, etc. But Laura Vanderkam, the author of the new book "All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending," says the only person standing in the way of achieving a satisfying life on almost any budget is you.
She asks, "If you had all the money in the world, what would you change about your life to make you happier?" For most of us, it's not a $2 million yacht. What we'd likely buy is a carefree life and financial security. The Fiscal Times talked with Vanderkam, who's written two previous books about Americans' complex feelings about money.
The Fiscal Times (TFT): How connected are money and happiness?
Laura Vanderkam (LV): There's a couple of ways to measure happiness. One of them is to ask, "How do you think your life overall is going?" A positive outlook keeps rising with income as far up as people have checked, well up to $160,000 a year. The "how happy are you right now" question and what your current mood is -- that seems to max out at about $75,000 a year, which is probably the point where people have solved most of their day-to-day worries of a car breaking down, or an unexpected bill or paying a mortgage. But past that, people's day-to-day happiness does not go higher.
TFT: So why are some of the wealthiest people the most miserable?
LV: Some are, but some wealthy people are also very happy. There's no data I know of on what percentage of wealthy people are miserable and what percentage are happy, so we tend to remember stories of the Scrooge type because we find those the most interesting. Overall, people's satisfaction of their lives rises with their income.
TFT: A lot of millionaires say they feel they don't have enough money. Why?
LV: Any person can feel that way; one problem especially in the United States is that we tend to compare ourselves to the small group of people who have more, as opposed to the billions of people on this planet who have less. If you're trying to keep up with the Kardashians, then yes, you are going to feel poor even if you are very well off. But if you look at people living in the slums of India, say, you're going to feel like you're incredibly rich.
TFT: At some point, even the most modest families who have good money values can hit hard times, though. So how can we find the balance between protecting ourselves without obsessing over finances?
LV: People should save far more money than they do. Instead of saving for retirement, save for now. If money doesn't buy you love, what it does buy is freedom. More assets give you more options in life. You have the ability to walk away from a job that's not making you happy, and if you do like your job, if you have assets in the bank, you can push back. You can say, "I don't want to do this" or "I'd like to do something else." What's the worst they can do? Fire you? You don't care.
TFT: In the years leading up to the financial crisis, many Americans lived far beyond their means. How did so many get so lost?
LV: Part of it is again comparing ourselves with the wrong reference group. But there's also been the idea that housing is always good to own and to spend more on. Many budget advisers say you can spend one-third of your income on housing, and people don't stop and think that this doesn't have to be the same percentage, whatever your income may be. So even people who are doing very well find it normal to take on a lot of debt to buy a house.
More from The Fiscal Times:
- 9 must-have status symbols that say 'I'm rich'
- The real cost of living: $150,000 minimum
- 16 countries where people work the longest hours
TFT: Will we get back to that level of spending before the financial crisis?
LV: It's funny: If you read old magazines, people always misjudge human nature. They tend to think that things will be very different in the future, and that's just not true. After the 1987 stock market crash, people said that no one's ever going to speculate on stocks again. Well, that lasted 10 years until the Internet bubble, and after that popped, we just started bidding up housing prices. I would guess that 10 years from now, there's going to be a bubble in something else. That's just human nature. We like to think we can get rich quick.
But I do hope there is at least more consideration of what we're doing with our money. We live in a rich country, and there's a lot of worry about inequality now, but many people have quite a bit more than two generations ago. So the question is how do we use those blessings to make a good life for ourselves and those we care about. I'm hoping that we'll retain some of that mindfulness about money. As we're doing this, it'd be great if the government could be more mindful with their money and ask what we're getting for all the expenditures we have as a country.
TFT: One interesting point you make is that a lot of little purchases can make you happier than a few big purchases. But doesn't buying that Frappuccino every day at Starbucks add up?
LV: They can add up without realizing it, but if you actually let yourself enjoy them and remind yourself that they are little pleasures, then you can continue to get joy out of them every time. Because happiness is more a function of frequency than intensity, and it's not that there's anything wrong with intense experiences, but you can't have them very often. If you have $5,000 to spend, you can spend it on one really nice table, and that's it. Whereas if you took that same $5,000 and said, "Every week I'm going to go out to dinner with friends," every time it would be different, and you could do it hundreds of times and get hundreds of happiness boosts instead of just one.
TFT: It seems like after buying a new purse, we realize it didn't give us that much satisfaction, but then we do it again.
LV: Some purchases can make you very happy, but there's no point spending mindlessly on things that don't. Know yourself and figure out what sort of activities give you a lot of happiness, and many of these things don't have to cost anything at all -- a picnic in the park with friends, a free concert or museums with discounted days. These are great options instead of purchasing another thing.
Experiences have a triple-happiness whammy -- you anticipate the experience beforehand, which is almost as pleasurable as the thing itself (we look forward to Christmas almost as much as Christmas morning); you enjoy having the experience; and you savor the memory afterwards. Every time you think of the experience, you get a little happiness boost. It's really three in one.
TFT: Have you made any purchases you regret?
LV: I have a lot of clothes in my closet I haven't really worn. I thought I was getting a bargain, but if you don't wear something, it's not a bargain.
More from The Fiscal Times:
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
I'm a dog person. One thing I've found for myself is how much joy and mental relaxment a dog can give you by just being a dog. He doesn't care how much or little money you have all he ever asks for is love, food, shelter and careing.
When I've had a bad day, good day whatever he's there for me. All he asks of me is to pet and play with him.
I've also found that I sleep much better when I have a dog. The cares of the day seem to melt away when I think of our time together during the day.
For a number of years I've hard a large amount of credit card debt. About 18 months ago I made a decision to make a big effort to eliminate 90 + % of these debts within 3 years. As of today I've eliminated almost 50%. I'm on track to reach my goal in the next 18 months. It hasn't been easy but it is working.
One good thing is, as one card is paid off and you move on to pay off the next it not only re-enforces your goals but it also gives you a feeling of accomplishment in small doses.
Now I rarely use a credit card if possible and when I do I pay off in full when the statement arrives.
Wants and needs can change in life based on your financial well being and situations. A person has to be smart enough to figure out when needs change to wants!!! If you can not afford it, do not do as the Jones' are doing but do what is in your best interest. I do not need the latest SMART PHONE or even a SMART PHONE period. I need a phone I dial out and if no answer I leave a voice mail. Same for a person calling me.
We do not have to be as connected as people think. The world will not come to an end if I am not connected 24/7. Same for cars, houses, clothing etc.
IT IS NOT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU MAKE, BUT HOW SMART YOU ARE GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE MONEY YOU HAVE. Use coupons. If you save 5%, it is 5%. Would you refuse a 5% raise? Buy used cars, clothing etc. Take advantage of those who make poor decisions.
So while I didn't retire rich, I retired in that position and be able to pay the tuition for studying things like piano and musicianship that I didn't have money or time for earlier in life while still doing other things. To me THAT is happiness. I feel like I've achieved the dream George and Lenny had in Of Mice and Men of "Living of the fat of the land."
First, you need to make enough to keep a roof over your head, food in your stomach and clothes and shoes on your body.
Secondly, you need to be able to take care of your health(short and long term)
After those two things, I would say what you need to make to be happy is 75% of what you make now. Learn to save and become financially stable and happiness is what you make of it.
True happiness comes from security, family and connection to community. Its a passion for something that is bigger than you are. Its being able to enjoy the now because you have a plan for the future and a well thought out way to get there.
Learn to live with what you have, have a plan to get to somewhere better and , if you truly gave it all you had, don't worry if you don't get all the way there.
True happiness comes from within. True happiness is obtained even in the face of aversity. You and you alone are responsible for your happiness. No one else. It's hard work getting there and keeping it, but once you do, it will be one of your most prized accomplishments.
Everyone needs money now.
Those that thank money means happiness, you are already in trouble...God Bless
Although money seems to somehow contribute to one's happiness, there is however more to that effect.
To find out more of that interesting, and yet to discover, concept, please read the upcoming book of Professor Eli Fleurant, an expert on the topic of happiness and well being.
Prof. Fleurant's book title is:Diaphanism: Solution for a happier life
Eli Fleurant creates the concept of Diaphanism, a philosophy of peace , reason, communication and well-being.
What is Diaphanism? Diaphanism is the methodic exercise of good habits for the attainment of positive emotions and happiness.
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