I recently saw a headline about whether or not money can buy you happiness. The article included the research done by Daniel Kahneman at Princeton University on this very question.
It's an important question that has been asked for many years and researched by the University of Pennsylvania's The Wharton School and, believe it or not, the Harvard Study of Adult Development for over 80 years.
Researchers have spent many, many decades interviewing over three generations of people every year, working them through surveys and health exams to try and ascertain their level of happiness and contentment with life.
The main reason the question keeps getting asked is because the results are so complex and, in some cases, confusing.
After all, we know there are plenty of people with significant wealth who are quite disappointed, frustrated, and angry. We also know there are people with minimal means who seem to have an outlook and attitude of happiness, and so it creates uncertainty.
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Now, if money and the seeds of money don't lead to a growing garden of happiness, is there anything that does seem to be correlated? I think that's what is really behind this question.
As financial planners who've worked with hundreds of families across the country, in our experience, there seems to be something correlated with happier clients. There is something that goes up in value and appears to result in clients who have a higher sense of contentedness and joy.
And that thing that goes up in value and leads to a sense of well-being is appreciation.
I don't just mean appreciation in a portfolio or a paycheck. I mean a sense of appreciation. This word, of course, in financial terms, can be defined as a growth in value. When we apply it to a portfolio, we're talking about something that has gone up in value. But the definition still works when we talk about appreciating the people or the things around us.
When we do this, we ascribe a higher sense of value to those things and essentially communicate our gratitude for those things. When we see appreciation and gratitude and that worldview in individuals and families, it always correlates with a more serene outlook on life — a sense of well-being, joy, and happiness.
And this is really profound.
I recently listened to a podcast from my friend Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach, and he made an interesting observation. In his experience, gratitude seems to be an effective antidote for almost every negative emotion. He shared that it is hard to nurse a sense of worry and anxiety when you're also feeling an undergirding sense of gratitude. It's hard to be jealous when you're also feeling thankful.
Now, let's face it: There are moments when we all struggle with being grateful or appreciative and, in turn, feel disappointed, upset, or discouraged. I've found that, often, I'm comparing my current situation to where I expected, hoped, or wanted to be.
Unfortunately, when I measure the future I was hoping for or expecting against where I actually am, I become aware of the deficit. And that can lead to an inward focus instead of a sense of gratitude.
However, when I focus on what is in my control, I realize that I can change my perspective. If I look backward and see how far I've come, where I was a year or five or ten years ago, and where I am now, I realize how much has been accomplished — all that has occurred and all the growth that has happened. And I'm reminded of how much there is to be grateful.
That sense of gratefulness, thankfulness, and appreciation always shows up with a greater sense of happiness, contentedness, and joy. It occurs to me that the saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it is pretty profound.
While money may not necessarily buy happiness, gratitude and appreciation will always point you in the right direction.
If money and happiness cause you uncertainty, please reach out to one of our financial planners. For years, we've helped our clients and their families achieve their financial and lifestyle goals and develop a healthy relationship with money.
Shane Tenny is the managing partner of Spaugh Dameron Tenny. Along with hosting the Prosperous Doc® podcast, Shane has a true passion for behavioral finance, helping clients and audiences understand how to develop successful strategies based on their unique temperaments. An accomplished and highly engaging speaker, Shane is regularly interviewed for television and podcasts, is actively involved in the Financial Planning Association®, and contributes to industry advisory boards.
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