Financial Literacy
For Your Future



In the Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness is not an easy concept to define or describe. It is a feeling after all and it is personal and maybe more importantly it is relative. Billionaire Warren Buffet supports this notion by saying that success is getting what you want, and happiness is wanting what you get. It is very possible, for example, that what makes one person very happy may make someone else “just happy” or maybe even discontent. This condition suggests that people trying to understand and function “better” with more happiness knowledge need to take the general facts and integrate them into who they are or want to become. In other words, time and thought must take place to gain the benefits of seeking happiness. In addition, it is important to note that the share of Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” is about one-third the total population and only fifty percent of Americans now consider themselves optimists which is a drop from seventy-nine percent as of 2004.  With this background in mind, let’s identify and personally process some of the facts in regards to how the pursuit of happiness impacts each of us.

Do you know in general:

  • People who are married are happier than those who are not.   
  • Marriage is a better predictor of happiness than having money or children.
  • Single people believe married people live more boring social lives than they do.
  • The majority of young people who have a good relationship with their parents are generally happier.
  • People who are happier are more inclined to be inventive and entrepreneurial. 
  • Degrees don't make people happier, but income does. If having degrees result in higher income, happiness follows. 
  • Happy people are more willing to donate to worthy causes. The U.S. ranks number one in charitable giving. 
  • People who focus on the past are less happy than those that focus on the here and now.

  • People who focus on the future are less happy than those that focus on the here and now.

  • The United States ranks 23rd on a happiness index.

  • Iceland, New Zealand, and Denmark rank 1, 2, 3 on the happiness index.

  • People are happier if they have a job. Even a low level job makes one happier than if they have no job.

  • The more money a person earns increases happiness but it is not a one to one relationship. A person earning $150,000 a year is likely to be only twice as happy as one earning $20,000.

  • People are happier when they spend their money on non-necessities.

  • Buying necessity items increases happiness early in the process, but once the needs are met, more purchases of necessities offers little satisfaction.

  • People who compare their income with others are less happy than if they focus on themselves.

  • Republicans are usually happier than Democrats.

  • Black Americans are less likely to be very happy than whites or Hispanics.

  • Women are usually happier than men in developed countries, but this changes in poorer countries.

  • Home owners are no happier than renters.

  • A culture/environment that offers choice amongst varied alternatives, work and reward, success from failure fosters happiness.

  • Slightly over forty percent of Americans are as happy as they expected to be.

  • Sixty percent of Americans feel the same or worse about their life after spending time on a social-media site.

The study of the pursuit of happiness should address the question of “what is happiness anyway?” The previously stated list of facts regarding happiness should help people create their own definition of happiness and begin to build their personal pathway to reach the happiness goal. As mentioned earlier, happiness is a state of mind that most people seek to achieve. For most people it is a feeling of contentment that is strong enough to push out pessimistic views in some and even dread in others. Happy people see more good in people than bad and their daily expectations are more positive than negative in regards to human interaction and basic events of the day. People who say they are very happy seem to be able to squeeze the good out of virtually any event and can be heard saying “what luck” to circumstances that unhappy people would be upset about. Focusing on the positive is a great way to fight that unhappy feeling. An example of this extreme happiness is when a student walks into class, sees that a surprise test has been scheduled, and says “great, I can show how much I know about the subject”.

Happiness is also connected to a person’s health. Happy people tend to eat smarter, exercise, have acceptable blood pressure, sleep better, and don’t take medication for depression. Feeling pessimistic and unhappy is a slippery slope that is easy to follow into more unhappiness. For many, buying things is an attempt to make one feel better. “Consumer therapy” is common and most often is short term at best that leads to debt and more unhappiness. Because feeling happy carries with it a number of positive benefits, everyone needs to determine where they are on the happiness continuum and how they can be more productive in their pursuit of happiness. This procedure should be followed often.

As many people connect happiness to jobs, income, possessions, and surroundings, the financial connection is important. As suggested earlier, money does buy happiness for many and ironically that condition might be the fact that causes so many people to become unhappy. Often times, people fail to recognize that a generally held belief should not direct behavior. The real questions that need to influence how we feel and what we do are the how much views. The connection between having money, buying things, and being happy should not be interpreted as buy things at any cost or if buying some things makes people happy then buying a lot of things should make you happier. The real question that needs to be addressed is how much I should buy to make me happy. Common sense should suggest that buying too much (more than one can afford) will eventually result in unhappy circumstances for most people particularly in the longer term. In addition, whether a person can afford a purchase or not, it must be noted that happiness changes with the number of items bought. For example, a glass of water is very satisfying when you are thirsty, but the third or fourth glass is not as satisfying as the first. The first automobile adds a great deal to most people’s happiness, but the tenth automobile may actually reduce happiness. This situation is called diminishing marginal utility and has long been employed by those who wish to maximize their happiness.  The how much dilemma may be related to jobs and income, but bad how much decisions have generated unhappiness for some of the richest people.  This condition helps explain why some very low income people are very happy when some of the highest income executives or athletes owe far more than they are worth and end their careers very unhappy.

You are now (maybe long before now) saying…O.K. You have convinced me that the pursuit of happiness is an important part of my life and there is a connection between happiness and financial literacy…so what should I do about it? Good question! Try this for starters:

  • Close your eyes. Picture the happiest time of your life. Some people may find it difficult to pick only on time, so "build" the picture as many times as necessary.

  • Identify/describe the environmental factors that are in your happiness picture(s).

  • Describe how being happy feels. What words are powerful descriptors of that feeling?

  • Thoughtfully define what happiness means to you.

  • Using your definition of happiness, make an estimate as to what percentage of your time is spent being happy.

  • Evaluate your percentage figure. Are you happy with this number, why or why not?

  • This is the difficult and most important part of this exercise! Build your personal roadmap to happiness. Carefully picture and describe your happiness destination. What is it? Where is it? Who are you with? Etc. Starting where you are currently (pack your bags), build and describe the road to your happiness destination. Like any roadmap, identify interim destinations along the way. Speculate on possible detours, cautions, breakdowns, unexpected joys, and/or items you need to pick up along the way to make the trip possible.

  • If you are comfortable sharing, compare your trip with others. How is your trip similar and different from your friends?



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