How Much is Enough?
This is a review of ‘How Much Is Enough? Making Financial Decisions That Create Wealth and Well-being’ by Arun Abey & Andrew Ford. I was surprised by the first part of the book — The Bridge of Well-being — it seems that the things that you think make you happy, often don’t.
Does Richer Mean Happier?
Let’s start out with a scary fact:
…today’s teenagers know a lot more than their parents in terms of technology but they have also achieved something their parents’ generation did not — they are killing themselves far more than any other generation
So our increase in wealth hasn’t been followed by an increase in happiness. How can we be happy, if money isn’t the answer? Abey and Ford provide some great insights into how we can learn to become satisfied with what we have. This is what creates happiness. I think this bears repeating — we can only be happy if we’re satisfied with what we have.There’s a lot in this book, but I’ll just focus on the key questions that leapt out at me:
- How do you make choices?
- Do you choose pleasure over gratification?
- What are your values?
- What does your calendar look like?
- When did you last give?
How do you make choices?
Are you a maximizer or a satisficer? These are two terms that can determine how happy you are. And, it’s pretty easy to figure out which one you are.
Choice is especially hard for maximizers
If you take forever to make a decision, and then constantly regret those decisions, you’re a maximizer. It took me a year to decide what computer to buy — a whole year. Even though I knew what I wanted, I just kept looking for something more powerful, but slightly cheaper. I’ve also spent more than a year reviewing my super, and still can’t decide what to do with it. I feel this mental paralysis, mostly caused by fear of doing the wrong thing — it’s like I’m physically unable to decide what “better” means.
Satisficers…settle for “good enough”
If you want to be happy, you’ve got a much higher chance if you’re a satisficer. They’re happy with a fairly quick choice, (i.e. they don’t take a year to choose a pc), and they don’t regret it afterwards. They are happy with something that’s good enough and aren’t perpetually looking for something better.
So next time you’re looking to make a decision, such as buying something that you really want, think ‘satisficer’.
Wanting vs having
Now, although we know that we should be a satisficer and settle for good enough, our brains are geared towards the new, the novel. And wanting something new is exciting. However, once we’ve got that new thing, that thing we’ve always wanted, sometimes it’s not so great after all.
When I decided I wanted a Fitbit fitness tracker, I thought about it all the time. Researched it endlessly, looking for the best bargains. Then finally, I found it online at a great price, bought it and waited impatiently for it to arrive. My feelings of happiness were close to a 10/10. Then it arrived, such excitement, such enjoyment getting it working and synching it with the app. Going on those first few walks to monitor my steps, making sure I didn’t knock it accidentally — I didn’t want to mark it in anyway.
Now, a year later, it’s just a Fitbit, now I want something else, something better. Now my feelings of happiness for my Fitbit are about a 4/10, I never really think about it anymore, except to get annoyed when it doesn’t sync properly.
It seems that we are always going to want things. We want them so much, but once we have them, we rarely love them as much as we did before we had them. So next time you want something, ask yourself, do I want to pay $180 for something I will just replace and throw out after a year? What else could I spend that money on?
This leads us to the next question.
Do you choose pleasure over gratification?
Our brains want new and novel, but they also want pleasures. These are here today and gone tomorrow experiences. Eating a block of chocolate, or watching your favourite show on Netflix. These are temporary and because of that, they don’t lead to lasting happiness.
Gratifications on the other hand, are longer-lasting and are related to our personal strengths. When we’re “in the flow”, doing something we love, whether it’s painting or bush-walking, these are the things that lead to long-term happiness. And often they don’t cost anything at all.
Think about how you’re spending your money. Are you spending it more on pleasures or gratifications? Or, if you’re a maximiser and are still agonising over the decision to buy anything at all, here’s something that can help. Before you make a big purchase, think “What else could I spend this money on”. For example could your purchase of the top-of-the-range gaming pc be better spent on a holiday, creating memories that will last forever?
What are your values?
Are you trying to head towards ‘satsificing”? Are you thinking about gratifications over pleasures now? Next step is to discover your values. An easy way to do this is to keep a diary, and each day write down what made you happy. You might be surprised to find that it may not be ‘things’ that you’re writing about.
Once you have a roof over your head, food, clothing and a job, feeling connected to others is of prime importance when it comes to happiness. Here are five ways to help you feel more connected with your fellow human beings:
- look after yourself (respect yourself and believe you are worthy of love)
- do things you enjoy (join a club, or an organisation to avoid feeling lonely)
- do things others enjoy (this tends to promote karma, and gives you feelings of satisfaction)
- be generous (in his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman states that “the afterglow of pleasurable activity pales in comparison with the effects of kind actions”)
- share your feelings (you can’t create a close relationship if you don’t display some vulnerability)
Keep your happiness diary for a month and then review it. What are the main themes? — these are the things you should be doing more of. Are they linked to the five ways above?
What does your calendar look like?
Now you know what makes you happy, but how do you fit these things into your life? Do you have time scheduled in your calendar for holidays? For time spent with the kids? or your pets? or your garden? or for walking along the beach?
If you look at your calendar right now, do you have any of these things scheduled? I know I didn’t. So go ahead and schedule in some time for happiness.
When did you last give?
This Chinese proverb, illustrates the final key to happiness:
If you want to be happy
…for an hour, take a nap
…for a day, go fishing
…for a month, get married
…for a year, get an inheritance
…for a lifetime, help someone
There are many stories in this book about people who gave money, time or both. It may sound strange, but giving without expectation of reward or recognition, is a sure road to happiness. And if you don’t know where to start, Abey & Ford suggest www.kiva.org — a microfinance site. For example instead of buying a birthday gift for your friend for $25:
- browse kiva.org
- find someone to whom you wish to loan the $25
- make the name in the gift of of your friend
- your friend then gets regular repayments
It’s a win-win. Your friend still gets the money, plus you both get the joy of learning that you have helped someone in need.
So this is the end of the review for Section 1 — The Bridge of Well-being. You’ve now got some keys to help you make better choices and choose pleasures over gratifications. You can figure out what your values are by keeping a diary of what makes you happy, and schedule in time to do more of them. Finally, give of yourself, your time, or your money to help others.
Before I go, here’s a final question. How much is enough,for you?
Expect less. Settle for what is good enough. And then relax.
Note: This has not been a complete review of every aspect in the first section of the book, there was also a section on helping to help the next generation by bringing up resilient, successful kids, which I’ve not covered.
Stay tuned for Part 2 Wealth Habits…