“Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open”
I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness. It’s a topic that I have read widely on and while the recipe for happiness eludes many of us, one thing is clear. Strangely or not happiness and money don’t appear to be tightly coupled. That is to say that you can buy some happiness, but not as much as you might think!
Initially the link between money and happiness is very strong, but once we have enough to meet our basic needs (food, shelter, and well-being) then more money does not appear to bring with it greater happiness.
A classic observation into the relationship between income and happiness has also found that growth in GDP does not corresponded very well to increases in self reported happiness. People living in wealthy countries are no happier than people living in poor countries. In fact some of the happiest populations are found in the middle of the GDP pack. If you are interested in this phenomenon look up the Easterlin Paradox.
Money can buy a little bit of happiness. I like to think of this as the foundations of happiness or the happiness that comes from being safe, clean and free from hunger. The question is exactly how much do we need to earn to pay for this foundation? There are a lot of estimates. US$13,000 seems to be a commonly agreed figure, but it really depends on where you live. If you live in rural India then this figure is way too high. If you live in Manhattan it might be too low. It’s a basic estimate for a life in a developed Western nation.
A good heuristic is that it should be about 1 days worth of full time work per week if you live in the West. It takes me about one and a bit days per week at my McJob to earn enough to pay for the foundations of happiness for my family. Because I believe that being happy is the main purpose of my life the good news I can chose to knock off if I like. This leaves five to six days a week of idle leisure time for napping and nappy changing. I could work more and earn more, but I shouldn’t expect that this would make me happier. In fact a higher income might just backfire and make me less happy.
Choosing to only work part-time has happiness dividends. The amount of leisure time one has seems to better explain variance in happiness than level of income, wealth or social status. So the opportunity cost of more working might just be the erosion of whatever additional happiness you have built on your foundations.
It has been reported that people who manage to buy their freedom from negative experiences (say their McJob) tend to be a lot happier than people who remain trapped in an endless cycle of a repetitive negative experience. This explains why many people won’t find happiness working more. It also explains why people are prepared to work overtime to pay a maid to clean their squalid hovel or a gardener to tug out the gorse and thistles that have taken over their yard while they are at work.
The other things that can help to increase happiness is mindfulness or living more in the present. Our tendency is to live in the future. Planning, worrying, and generally making ourselves anxious about how we will control future events so that they pan out how we want (I believe this is largely pointless. Focusing on these types of thoughts gives them the compost to grow. But that is a whole other blog…). Other unfortunates seem to live entirely in a traumatic past. Being history focused can be pleasant if we recall enjoyable memories, but too often we are overly focused on negative experiences that put us into states of guilt. Living more of your life in the moment will free you from worry and guilt leaving more space and time to foster happiness.
The last factor that has been linked to happiness is where we place our attention. Simply are you focused on you or are you aware of and acutely focused on the concerns and needs of others? Being more compassionate and giving appears to be a precursor to happiness. Try to forget yourself and your own messed up issues and start living with and for others.
Our self image is umm… just an image. A mental representation. No more real or tangible than any other thought or emotion that floods through out consciousness. I think of the self as a visceral flavour that we overlay on all of our experiences. Like the flavour raspberry, the self is hard to explain in words, but once you taste raspberry on it’s own you can detect it’s presence in everything you eat. By discovering the ‘raspberry’ you become free to choose to cook without accidentally adding red syrup. This is how you become free to enjoy cooking without worrying about who it is that is cooking. You just cook and be. My friend describes it like this – ‘one day I woke up and just got over myself…you know?’. Couldn’t put it simpler myself!
To sum up, don’t feel bad about pulling your next sickie from work. You need that day. Happiness can’t be shelved until you are ready to enjoy it. Try a sick day giveaway. If it would stress you out too much to dodge work then why not add a friendship Friday this week. Give your time, money (small gifts) and attention to other people. Take stock at the end and reflect on how you felt. A simple test is to score how happy you were on Thursday on a scale of 1 to 10 and compare your score for Friday.
If you want more money then work more. Just don’t expect to discover happiness lurking in the 3rd drawer of your office filing cabinet. If you’d like to be happier, slow down, work less, play more, enjoy now, forget yourself and be giving. The foundations of happiness are cheap. The best compost is friendship and good Ale.