Does Money Make Us Happy? Somewhat…

 

Does Money Make Us Happy? Somewhat… Time after Time Studies Find Money Actually Isn’t the Most Valuable and Irreplaceable Asset for Happiness

money

What is it to be happy? What are the defining characteristics of happiness? How does our notion of happiness change as time goes by?   Are we happier if we make more money?  Are we less or more happy because we’ve had a lot of experiences over time, or is it about a lot of things?     

There has been a surge of interest and research on happiness over the last 15 years, to the point where there is now a field of study called “Happiness quantification.”  Economists and other business-school dwellers also refer to it as “utility” – usually with the word “optimization” in close proximity.  Some of the findings are that happiness is very time-sensitive: you may be happier on a Sunday than any other week, you may be happier at 8 in the evening than at 2 pm, you are happier if you live in Colorado than in Nevada.  And contrary to what our parents taught us, there is now some evidence that generally speaking, being richer means you are happier.

Now, just to confuse the issue further, although we Americans are nearly three times wealthier as we were in the early 1970s, when surveyed, we do not seem to report any higher levels of happiness than at that time.

money scalesAnd, with regard to income, a study from Princeton University in 2010 that polled 450,000 Americans reported interesting results: a cutoff line of about $75,000 a year. The lower you are on the income scale, the unhappier you are. But no matter how much you make beyond that mark, there is no substantial increase in your level of happiness.[i]  Perhaps this is explained by the theory that there are actually two kinds of happiness: your day to day mood and how you feel when you get up in the morning contrasted with your overall level of satisfaction with your life, or how you feel it is turning out. The study concluded that 85% of us (no matter where we fall on the income scale) feel happy each day, and most also feel life is going well, or well enough.

In addition to economists, there is a cadre of other experts with plenty of advice on what makes us happy.  I don’t purport to be an expert, but here are insights I’ve culled various sources:

  1. Having some control over our time, so that there’s at least an hour that is ours to do with what we want. Per the above referenced studies and contrary to conventional wisdom spouted for centuries, a higher paycheck will not make you happy if you have little or no time left for something that gives you real pleasure.  Whatever we do for a living, whether we work inside the home, parenting, running a business, taking care of family in some way, or work outside the home, one of the foremost ways that men and women alike define happiness is that one hour (or so) a day (for some it’s only an hour a week, and even more precious at that!), has to belong to them and them alone.  Studies over the past decade of our increasingly 24/7 work modes indicate that even executives at the highest echelons of the corporate suite feel that they have as little control over their schedules as some minimum-wage employees do.  That’s astonishing, to say the least.

     

  2. woman treadmillPhysical activity of some kind is a must.  For decades exercise has been hailed as not only a stress-reliever but a happiness boost.  The endorphins created by exercise can be enough to motivate us to better productivity, a more healthy brain, and even joy.   Fit the time into your schedule to enjoy some kind of exercise and make sure that you push away from your desk and walk around instead of working through a high-fat lunch.  Whether it’s music, walking to a colleague’s office instead of sending an email, taking an outdoor break to walk to lunch, or whatever works for you, break up the monotony and circulation-killing habit of sitting at a desk all day long. 

     

  3. woman big laugh laughingStart your day with a comedy fix, or fit time in for one during the day.  Yes, surfing the net for cat videos has given whole new meaning to wasting one’s life away, but most office workers have found a way to manage the comedy break in sophisticated ways, indulge minimally, and then get back to work.   The benefits of fitting in something that genuinely makes you laugh at the beginning or end of the day or whenever you need an energy boost, are so numerous there isn’t enough time or space to list them all.   Not to mention, diverting yourself via a comedy break from hitting “send” on a very angry email could also save you from making a career-decimating mistake.  Just don’t send an embarrassing comedy short to someone whose sense of humor you may not really understand. 

     

  4. Moving away for even 30 minutes’ time from a challenging task – business or otherwise – is actually your fastest route to an optimal solution and, we hope, a happier day.   One of my favorite new discoveries is a consulting firm called The Energy Project, http://www.theenergyproject.com. It is chock-full of ideas for boosting physical, spiritual, mental and emotional energy.  A New York Times article about the firm remained in the #1 spot on the “Most Emailed” List for almost a week!  Not only does it make me happy to try at least one new idea from that site on a daily basis, but I have come to regard it as my personal reminder to take a much-needed break.

     

  5. Productivity experts at Harvard Business School concur that it’s not just about money when it comes to being happy at work.  In the February 2013 issue of Inc. magazine[2]* on what makes employees unhappy, Professor Teresa M. Amabile asserts [see citation below] that “…making progress on real work…” and “…Feeling like you are able to move forward on a daily basis engenders real joy.”   

    There isn’t an office dweller alive who dreads meetings with no agendas, no purpose stated, and no measurable progress at the end of an hour (or more) of meeting where the time seems to drag on.  Purpose + agenda + time limits = progress and, we hope, happiness at work.

     

  6. to do listTo Professor Amabile’s assertion, I would add that having an effective to-do list is essential.  Resist the quantity-heavy to-do list, as plowing through a lot of unrelated tasks is nothing but project dandruff that fritters away time.  Either bundle tasks by energy, purpose, or timeframe, or slam through inessential tasks as fast as possible.  One of my favorite habits is to ask every day:  “Did my work today increase my stock, lower it, or keep it steady?”  Obviously, I try to have few days where I’m lowering my equity!  Having a set of 60-90-120 day timetables – and revising them to accommodate the inevitable delays or deletions – is essential.  Focus on what’s essential and will lead to greater results.  Get those tasks done during the time of day when you have the most energy, whether it involves physical, mental, spiritual or emotional output that will give you the most productive returns. 

     

  7. wine for two crpdHah – there is no “7!”  How about you just set aside at least one day to rest and do absolutely nothing but what makes you happy.  For many multi-tasking careerists, that means running a lot of errands over the course of the day and then relaxing in the evening.  My husband and I do that exactly:  we designate the one night where we’ll splurge on a Manhattan dinner out.  While it’s presumed that most Manhattan dwellers order take-out food most nights, or that we’re always going to the best restaurants, the truth is actually more prosaic.  When I’ve been out every single day and several nights in a row as well, what really makes me happy is to completely withdraw into my couch.  I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Consider it a gift – no Santa necessary. 

 *Finally, what actually is the most valuable and irreplaceable asset we have?   Consider this: You can’t insure it.  You can’t bottle it or safe-deposit it (not really).  You can’t get it back once you’ve consumed it, without compromising or deftly negotiating other aspects of your life.  When you have more of it than you thought, it can seem like an eternity – a good and bad thing, depending on your timeframe.  The fact is, the most valuable and irreplaceable asset we have is TIME.  Time after time, that’s what we all want more of, and we can’t get enough of it without planning it, managing it, understanding how we’re using it, and making the most of it.  Time is of our essence, now more than ever.   

 ~     ~      ~     ~     ~

Sources and further reading:

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/magazine/money-changes-everything.html?_r=0

2) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

3) What Makes Employees Unhappy | Inc.com
www.inc.com/magazine/201212/…wong-what-makes-employees-unhappy.html

4) The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

 


 

[1] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

[2] What Makes Employees Unhappy | Inc.com
www.inc.com/magazine/201212/…wong-what-makes-employees-unhappy.html


 

Caregiving for Baby Boomers: Blended families have blended loyalties

couple calculatorThe baby boom generation is history-making, life-changing, innovative and unusual.  Boomers take literally the mandate of “…Do not go gentle into that good night.” And the boomer cohort is HUGE.  According to  the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, the number of Americans entering retirement age will nearly double by the year 2030. How on earth will we, as a nation, look after the health care of about 72 million older adults with few youngsters to support them financially and physically? Kotlikoff and Burns state in  The Coming Generational Storm, that “by 2030, the senior to kid ratio will be three to one!”

Caregiving is a stressful and exhausting task, even in an “old-fashioned” nuclear family.  My siblings and I continue to struggle with decisions we made (or waited too long to make) regarding both my parents, especially my mother, who is 89 and ailing in a nursing home located close to my sister’s weekend home.  While my sister elected to keep Mom close to her, the enormity of the responsibility for my mother’s care is taking a monumental toll on my sister and her husband – more than anyone else in our family.     

Modern blended families add an unprecedented level of complexity to the mix. Second and third marriages create a web of connections (and disconnects), with stepchildren and other more distant family members expressing varying degrees of loyalty and commitment.

Many questions arise:  How involved will children and/or stepchildren be in the long-term care needs of their parents? Who will be required to make difficult decisions if an older person or parent is no longer able to live alone, or make decisions about their own care? In blended families, competing loyalties make these decisions more difficult.  

And here is a harsh reality: an older person may wonder if after his death his biological children will treat his surviving spouse, their stepmother, in the same way they treated him.  The grown stepchildren of later baby boom marriages just do not have the same history with the new stepparent, and feel less responsibility to help out. This is from the recent New York Times article entitled: “In Blended families, responsibility blurs:  “The ties which lead adult children to become caregivers — depending on how much contact they have with parents, how nearby they live, how obligated they feel — are weaker in stepchildren.“ Older couples in this situation fall through the cracks.”[i]

The New York Times article can be viewed as more than a cautionary tale to add to the woes of boomers who currently may be unemployed, under-employed and dealing with the compounded responsibilities of supporting college-age students, eldercare expenses, diminishing home values, and their own health concerns.  Turn it into a call to action: “We will not go gentle into that good night!”

Boomers may be the first generation that made Botox, gym memberships and Spanx as essential as bread and water, but “essentials” take on a whole new meaning in a recession.  Considering that many women (and men) between the ages of 55 and 65 are working two and three jobs, with no healthcare benefits,  and resorting to health regimens that at best are questionable and at worst harmful to their health, and you don’t need a battle cry to realize it’s time for a better plan. 

For my husband and me, the fact that we are childless means that we had to become our own caretakers – to a certain limit.  Our plan included buying long-term insurance ten years ago when we watched my father die in pain over the course of two years in nursing homes.  That was our alarm clock: We then put in place concrete goals, decision points and deadlines that included downsizing from the home we had bought 30 years ago when I was a bride, and which we sold last year, to reducing myriad unnecessary expenses. 

By anyone’s definition we do not live a Spartan life!  Today we are in a very small but perfect (for us, anyway) apartment where we each monitor every financial and health decision, keep necessary costs down and eliminate non-essential expenses, defined as those that would cause us more stress if we indulged in them than if we don’t. What works for us certainly isn’t for everyone else, and we also realize that we are extremely fortunate in being able to live where we want to live, and enjoy what we have. 

For other boomers, especially those in blended families where the demarcation lines of responsibility and loyalty give new meaning to the words “blurred” or “nonexistent” I can only offer a lot of empathy and encouragement:  It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to plan for retirement!  Even then, there are no guarantees that your plan will succeed, or that a health threat will not thwart your plan.  Therefore, plan for what you absolutely need as well as for what you want (two different constructs, of course).  Plan well, and monitor your plan diligently so you can shift your priorities when the need arises.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  In other words, do not go gentle into that good night.   Not on your life!

 

SOURCES:

http://www.csa.us/pubs/articles/Journal50_7_mccabe_BlendedFamilyTensions.pdf

http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/

American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-amy-ziettlow/caregiving_b_1220053.html

The Coming Generational Storm, Kotlikoff and Burns Kotlikoff and Burns

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging

 

 

 

 

 



[i] “In Blended Families, Responsibility Blurs,” Paula Span, NYTimes, http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/. February 12, 2013

 

 

The baby boom generation is history-making, life-changing, innovative and unusual.  Boomers take literally the mandate of “…Do not go gently into that good night.” And the boomer cohort is HUGE.  According to  the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, the number of Americans entering retirement age will nearly double by the year 2030. How on earth will we, as a nation, look after the health care of about 72 million older adults with few youngsters to support them financially and physically? Kotlikoff and Burns state in  The Coming Generational Storm, that “by 2030, the senior to kid ratio will be three to one!”

Caregiving is a stressful and exhausting task, even in an “old-fashioned” nuclear family.  My siblings and I continue to struggle with decisions we made (or waited too long to make) regarding both my parents, especially my mother, who is 89 and ailing in a nursing home located close to my sister’s weekend home.  While my sister elected to keep Mom close to her, the enormity of the responsibility for my mother’s care is taking a monumental toll on my sister and her husband – more than anyone else in our family.     

Modern blended families add an unprecedented level of complexity to the mix. Second and third marriages create a web of connections (and disconnects), with stepchildren and other more distant family members expressing varying degrees of loyalty and commitment.

Many questions arise:  How involved will children and/or stepchildren be in the long-term care needs of their parents? Who will be required to make difficult decisions if an older person or parent is no longer able to live alone, or make decisions about their own care? In blended families, competing loyalties make these decisions more difficult.  

 

And here is a harsh reality: an older person may wonder if after his death his biological children will treat his surviving spouse, their stepmother, in the same way they treated him.  The grown stepchildren of later baby boom marriages just do not have the same history with the new stepparent, and feel less responsibility to help out. This is from the recent New York Times article entitled: “In Blended families, responsibility blurs:  “The ties which lead adult children to become caregivers — depending on how much contact they have with parents, how nearby they live, how obligated they feel — are weaker in stepchildren. “Older couples in this situation fall through the cracks.”[i]

The New York Times article can be viewed as more than a cautionary tale to add to the woes of boomers who currently may be unemployed, under-employed and dealing with the compounded responsibilities of supporting college-age students, eldercare expenses, diminishing home values, and their own health concerns.  Turn it into a call to action: “We will not go gently into that good night!”

Boomers may be the first generation that made Botox, gym memberships and Spanx as essential as bread and water, but “essentials” take on a whole new meaning in a recession.  Considering that many women (and men) between the ages of 55 and 65 are working two and three jobs, with no healthcare benefits,  and resorting to health regimens that at best are questionable and at worst harmful to their health, and you don’t need a battle cry to realize it’s time for a better plan. 

For my husband and me, the fact that we are childless means that we had to become our own caretakers – to a certain limit.  Our plan included buying long-term insurance ten years ago when we watched my father die in pain over the course of two years in nursing homes.  That was our alarm clock: We then put in place concrete goals, decision points and deadlines that included downsizing from the home we had bought 30 years ago when I was a bride, and which we sold last year, to reducing myriad unnecessary expenses. 

By anyone’s definition we do not live a Spartan life!  Today we are in a very small but perfect (for us, anyway) apartment where we each monitor every financial and health decision, keep necessary costs down and eliminate non-essential expenses –defined as those that would cause us more stress if we indulged in them than if we don’t.   What works for us certainly isn’t for everyone else, and we also realize that we are extremely fortunate in being able to live where we want to live, and enjoy what we have. 

For other boomers, especially those in blended families where the demarcation lines of responsibility and loyalty give new meaning to the words “blurred” or “nonexistent” I can only offer a lot of empathy and encouragement:  It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to plan for retirement!  Even then, there are no guarantees that your plan will succeed, or that a health threat will also thwart your plan.  Therefore, plan for what you absolutely need as well as for what you want (two different constructs, of course).  Plan well, and monitor your plan diligently so you can shift your priorities when the need arises.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  In other words, do not go gently into that good night.   Not on your life!

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.csa.us/pubs/articles/Journal50_7_mccabe_BlendedFamilyTensions.pdf

http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/

American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-amy-ziettlow/caregiving_b_1220053.html

The Coming Generational Storm, Kotlikoff and Burns Kotlikoff and Burns

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging

 

 

 

 

 



[i]In Blended Families, Responsibility Blurs,” Paula Span, NYTimes, http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/. February 12, 2013

 

 

Hello, your insurance company called. They want your baggy pants back.

Recently, I blogged about the realities of working at home for many women over 40 and offered some initial tips on how to relieve the bleak boredom of it all, not to mention staying alert to the physical challenges of working at home.

Here’s a wake-up call you can’t ignore: Statistics from Aetna, the insurance giant, show people telecommuting for work gain weight faster and have a harder time losing it than those who go to work every day! We tend to underestimate the expenditure of energy it takes to get up, get showered, get ready, get dressed and get out the door – all the mundane tasks we don’t really think of as physical exercise but which burn calories. Hey, just blasting a hair dryer for 14 minutes during weeks when I’m sorely overdue at my hairdresser’s causes me to fume to the point where I just know I’m burning up some extra calories!

File:RIAN archive 555848 Testing on treadmill.jpgEven if you don’t have time for a full-fledged workout, heed the advice of Dr. Mehmet Oz, and other respected physicians, and pursue N.E.A.T. moves. N.E.A.T. is short for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” – a really heavy-duty (no pun intended) word meaning that small bursts of activity can definitely help you burn more calories (that’s what thermogenesis means) than just sitting with the remote (and in remote) cracking open pistachios.

Slate Online published an article on December 31 of 2012, “Why telecommuting may destroy your work/life balance,” in which it states, “47 % its U.S. employees work from home every day.” Slate, and other research indicates that 24/7 screen time not only takes away from our physical activity, but interferes with sleep, which then negatively impacts our ability to do productive work! Aetna found that its telecommuters tended to be heavier, so the company now provides an online personal trainer to help them stay in shape [i]

Food manufacturers always get blamed for making people fat, but they could be a boon to consumers who want to think inside the box when planning healthful meals. Frozen processed foods, eaten in moderation, are a secret weapon of people who really want to lose weight but hate the whole planning, measuring, chopping, cooking and clean-up work. When I lost 60 pounds several years ago, and managed to keep all but 7 pounds off, I relied a lot on frozen meals. I would much rather spend my creativity on real work rather than cooking and cleaning. Besides, all that prepping tends to make me munch between chopping, since it takes so much time before I actually sit down to eat my meal!

The key benefit of frozen meals is portion control. If Lean Cuisine and similar lines are too “mini-meal” for you, add a big salad, cut your dressing with lemon juice and make sure you have satisfying vegetables with your meal. Bottom-line is that the food industry doesn’t lift that high calorie snack bar or bag of chips to your mouth again and again. And, if you’re not commuting regularly and your office is in or near the kitchen, it’s just too easy to grab the snacks and lose perspective.

Get dressed in clean, pressed clothes every day. Yes, seriously. I know it’s been said before – in some good ways, actually: “Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up” or from Woody Allen, “80% of life is just showing up.” You may be fighting some depression, some rejection, some anxiety, or even winter’s SAD disorder (Seasonal Affective Disorder- try some full spectrum light bulbs for that). But this can help: put on real clothes, it doesn’t have to be a corporate suit or dress, but something that makes you look put together. Do your hair and put on some lipstick. It will change your whole mindset, lift your spirits, make you feel better about yourself, and prepare you for the day in a way that working in your pajamas just can’t.

As a sign that people of all ages and geographies are embracing this as a productivity concept, so-called Formal Fridays are taking off across corporate America! Tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley instigated a backlash idea: wear a suit on Friday. Talk about an about-face.

File:Skinny20080428.jpgHang up your “5-pounds-ago” jeans (or slinky dress, etc.) where you can see them all the time. I don’t mean your skinny-skinny-skinny jeans that would require liposuction for you to get back into, but something attainable that will help keep you out of the refrigerator or the cookie jar. A colleague of mine hung hers OVER the refrigerator, so that she would have to actually move the jeans in order to open the door to the fridge. May be a bit extreme, but she swears it mortified her into shape!

Consider getting a Soda Stream water carbonator. No, I’m not paid by them, nor do I have shares in the company. It’s just a really good idea. Coffee with sugar and cream in it, fruit juice, lattes and sodas, all have calories that we forget to count, and come with other negative health effects. Instead, Soda Stream will help you drink more calorie-less plain seltzer water with ice, or lightly flavored with a touch of lemon, lime, grape juice, etc. without having to lug containers, bottles, or cans back and forth from the store. And you get the beneficial refreshing effects of water.

Set a timer to go off once an hour to take a break. So many of us are as focused as we are sedentary, even eating our lunch at desk or table. The New York Times published an interesting article in the October 17 2012 edition, entitled, “Get up. Get out. Don’t sit.” It presents two recent research studies which prove sitting for hours at the computer is extremely unhealthy for us! [ii] Every hour, when your timer dings, get up, run up and down the stairs, or do a few minutes with the jump-rope. Even do ten pushups and ten sit ups, if this doesn’t leave you in a sweaty heap. It is the movement, the increase to your circulation and metabolism that we are after here. Some blood to the brain. Refresh and recharge and feel better.

These are just a few ways to accentuate the positive, focusing on the things to actually do rather than not do, to charge yourself up and trim yourself down. Whether you’re working from home temporarily, or it’s a more long-term lifestyle choice, make sure you get yourself in a productive work mindset, get dressed, put on some music, keep moving and refresh your brain at least once an hour.

As for those baggy pants, tell your insurance company they’re just for sleeping – which you try to do for at least 7 hours! All the better to preserve and protect your middle-aged mind!

 


[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/12/telecommuting_may_be_terrible_for_your_work_life_balance.html