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Having Enough For Happiness

How much money is enough? Some people might give this question a flippant answer like, “A lot more than I have!” Others might argue there is a finite income or asset level that “should” be enough. But of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

In last week’s column, I explored the concept of well-being as comprised of three factors: prosperity, happiness, and health. Without considering the components of happiness and health, we simply can’t answer the question of how much money is enough.

True, research has verified that having enough money to comfortably meet our basic needs is related to happiness. Yet the accumulation of money in and of itself rarely brings happiness. Many of us know people who have set financial goals: “When I earn $50,000 a year or have a net worth of $500,000, I’ll be happy.” When they attain that goal, they decide they will actually be happy when they obtain more.

Happiness is not entirely determined by the amount of money we have, but rather what we do with our money to support living an authentic life. An authentic life is one free from control by others in which our lifestyle is congruent with our deepest goals and desires.

The first step to finding out how much is enough is to put away your calculator and determine what makes you happy. Finding out what brings happiness to your life may be a bit more daunting than you first think.

The first things you may think of that make you happy are activities such as having a good meal or glass of wine, shopping, a new car or home, a vacation, or a romantic rendezvous with that special person. These are all pleasures, activities that give us a short-term boost of endorphins but are not long-lasting. Psychologists tell us that sustainable happiness comes from gratifications, which are long-lasting activities that draw on and challenge our personal talents, strengths and abilities.

The questions then become: What challenges you? What activities do you engage in that make time seem to stand still? That leave you energized and fulfilled?

Answering these questions takes some focus and time, sometimes years. Most of us don’t have the luxury to go meditate on a mountaintop until we figure out what will make us happy. While we’re defining the goals and activities that will gratify us, we also need to be making a living.

In fact, I would go even further and suggest that, while you’re exploring these essential questions, you also work on building some wealth. That way, when you eventually answer the question, “How much money is enough?” you’ll be well on your way to having that amount.

The challenge is to be sure that accumulating money doesn’t become a goal in itself. Here are a few ways to help your life aspiration planning and your wealth-building support each other in a balanced way.

Learn the basics of investing and focus on the long term. Don’t allow yourself to get pulled into attempts to make money in a hurry through high-risk speculation or trading individual stocks.

Develop the habit of living on less than you make, so you don’t find yourself using up precious time and energy supporting a lifestyle you don’t really want.

Don’t invest a lot in an education until you’re sure it supports your life aspirations.

Finally, think in terms of “financial planning,” rather than “managing money.” A true financial plan is far more than a budget. It is a blueprint for using all your resources—including money—to create and support the fulfilled, gratifying life you want.

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2 Responses to Having Enough For Happiness

  1. Richard Trachtman September 6, 2010 at 5:32 am #

    Rick,
    Another good, well thought out piece. I would add one thing. I believe the most important form of happiness is life satisfaction, which includes living or having lived a life that is congruent with your values, so that you can feel you are a good, wothwhile person. There are many values (money is not one of them) but they can all be subsumed under two that Freud is said to have suggested: love and work. The work, of course has to be not just an activity aimed at making money, but a real contribution to the welfare of others as well as ourselves so that we can feel we are contributing members of our society. It will make you even happier if work is something you can enjoy and are good at.

  2. Jean Mackie September 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Absolutely! Money is a significant slice of the well rounded pie of happiness. The real equation for me has been what are the key ingredients in that slice that put the flavor in my happiness and keep me coming back for more?

    Spice racks to avoid:
    Seeing harm or no purpose in what I am doing
    Feeling about as needed as a hang nail
    Being disrespected/controlled by others

    The spice rack I like to use:
    Loving/relishing what I am paid to do
    Making a difference by hands-on service to others
    Enjoying/respecting who I’m working with or for

    Today is Labor Day and my significant other and I have had no plans or money to do anything the entire weekend. He’s in his third year of a doctorate program in psychology; writing papers, studying, seeing clients and not bringing in a dime. I’m steadily building a business; that is 5 years old and counting, not made more than $15K this year, seriously wondering what I can try next to drum up business and having so many ideas spinning through my head but they all cost money that all I can do is pray for guidance and direction.

    Over this holiday weekend while walking around looking at houses we would some day dream to own and talking about what we would do if we had them, some neighborhood kids were selling something at the end of their drive way. We couldn’t resist and broke out our wallets spending $1 each on two lemonades. Their father coached them with what to do and what to say and their faces were bright as a christmas tree… they had made a sale! We walked away feeling just as bright because of being a part of that experience. (You really had to be there, they had a pet bird that was yellow and grey and sung in it’s cage Pop Goes The Weasel to draw in customers).

    So we hiked, read books, watched an old movie Singin’ In The Rain, walked, talked, laughed and spent a whole $2 the entire holiday weekend. Are we worried about money? YUP… but one thing we both know for sure in this thrifty time of being:

    “The less we want, the less we expect, the less we feel we deserve, the happier we are.