For happiness, money's a tool, not a yardstick
husband and I love to play golf. A four-hour round is like a mini-vacation,
a time of total relaxation and enjoyment. We witness all manner
of wildlife in a natural setting at the public course we regularly
play: blue herons, crimson cardinals, tall and elegant sandhill
cranes, and yes, the occasional snake or alligator. It's an opportunity
to hone a skill amid beautiful surroundings.
But if I were to compare my score to that of my husband, I would
have a lousy time. He shoots in the 80s. I'm usually one or two
strokes away from breaking 100. Rather than compete with him, I
just play my own best game and revel in the day.
It's easy to keep score when it comes to money. Money lends itself
to mathematical computations. It manifests itself in an obvious
way through the things people buy.
But we can get into trouble when we equate money with personal
worth, when we rely on it to increase our self-esteem, when we believe
it's the source of our happiness. And we can fall into a deep trap
if we compare our lifestyle or our material possessions with those
who have more money than we do.
In her book, "Money
& Happiness, A Guide to Living the Good Life," author
Laura Rowley explores the correlation between the tangible measure
of value and the ethereal state of mind.
"Most money guides operate under the assumption that if you
have enough information and take action, you can build wealth and
be happy. But that leap from wealth to happiness is neither easy
nor obvious," she says. "I believe that you first have
to define what 'the rich life' means to you, what ideas, activities
and relationships you value, and what you're striving for personally
-- then use money to build that life."
Money thus becomes a tool, a means to an end. It should function
within a framework of absolute standards that you set up, based
on your values, rather than one relative to the standards of others.
Joneses? We don't know any Joneses
An important step -- and a liberating one at that -- is to avoid
making comparisons between yourself and the Joneses next door or
anyone else who evokes that ugly emotion, envy. Your happiness depends
on your ability to be focused strictly on your own strengths, goals
and personal values rather than on those of others.
"Scientific research supports the link between happiness and
avoiding comparisons," Rowley writes. "In a series of
studies, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California-Riverside
had her subjects perform a word-game task. She then planted false
indicators of success or failure, such as allowing participants
to see that other people completed the test more quickly. Lyubomirsky
found that happy people are better at disregarding information about
others' success. They concentrate on their own abilities instead.
... Meanwhile, unhappy people tend to dwell on negative feelings
about themselves and others."
Using personal anecdotes and a great deal of research to buttress
her arguments, Rowley helps readers get in touch with how to align
their money goals with their values.
And she acknowledges that it's true that money does facilitate
happiness -- to a certain extent at least. Without any, you'd be
worrying about food, shelter and achieving some degree of comfort
on a daily basis.
But surprisingly, the extremely wealthy are not appreciably
happier than the average person. A study by psychology professor
Ed Diener at the University of Illinois shows that "the obscenely
wealthy -- the Forbes' 100 richest Americans -- scored only slightly
above the average Joe on the happiness scale," Rowley notes.