If you get the chance to speak with me, you would realize that I am not a very happy person to be around.
However, happiness is a subject that comfound a lot of us. The pursuit of wealth is supposed to be the solution to address unhappiness.
Yet, sometimes we are in an unhappy mood. Some of us will sink deeper into a depressive mode. Sometimes we are happier.
Perhaps the reason we could not be happier is because we have not read the user manual of happiness. If we have not read the manual, how can we be happier?
In the twenty-plus years that we have the internet, you would be able to find more happiness manual writers whose work may allow you to become happier. As a finance blogger and podcast listener, I would encounter an article on why we are unhappy/happy and how to become happier/less sad.
To a large degree, they helped me explain why we will feel a certain way. Whether they have the solution to make us happier or not is debatable.
Popular Science has an article titled How to spend your money for maximum happiness this week. I think it is one of the better articles out there. If you read enough, you would realize a lot would talk about the same thing. But some writers were able to put across in a better manner.
I will highlight the parts where they resonated more with me. I will also pen down a little of what I learn about happiness over the years.
Thinking about the Concept of Happiness is a Luxury for those who are more Affluent or have More Headspace
Here is an interpretation of Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs. The pyramid depicts the stages of our needs. We have to get physiological needs settled before we can explore safety and then low and belonging.
We have more opportunities to think about whether we are happy or not when we are not in the midst of fighting for our survival. If we have not settled our physiological needs, we would not have a lot of headspace to think about the concept of happiness.
We are likely to be unsatisfied about our situation than satisfied. So we are less happy.
Not thinking about the concept of happiness does not mean you cannot be happy if you are poorer. It just means that you need to have a better understanding of what will make you happier.
From what I observe, a person gets frustrated about the concept of happiness because they believe they have the potential to be happy. This often means they are more affluent, compare to a part of society.
You could be poorer and ponder about happiness a lot if you have the free headspace to do that. Most of us are too pre-occupied about making more money to think about that.
Buy Time If You are More Affluent
I would often experience a phenomenon called time famine.
I would become concern about not having enough time for the things I really wanted to do. This is regardless of how pack my calendar is.
It is an internal state of anxiety.
If this is not managed well, time famine can cause real health consequences. Research shows that we become more stress, like likely to spend time helping others and less active. It is an attributable cause of us exercising less.
Basically, you will feel like you didn’t have your shit together.
The solution to time famine is to get social support.
Here are some quick examples:
- Get maid(s) to help with the tasks that take up a lot of time, that you have less bandwidth to do
- Spend money on the delivery of food, groceries, courier
- Engage a trusted and competent financial adviser to take care of your wealth. If you find it hard to do that, build up your competency on constructing & managing a passive investment portfolio. Delegate part of the investment execution such as securities selection, rebalancing, rules-based buying and selling to low-cost funds
When we have time and no money, we try to earn more money with our time. When we have money, we try to use that money to buy us more time.
If you are somewhere in between, manage your budget to see if you can squeeze this out.
Outsource to the point where you feel that you get your sanity back. But if you are pursuing financial independence, this may not bring you more happiness if that is a high priority.
Use That Time Free Up on Happiness Pursuits
When you are able to have more time, make sure that you spend the time doing the things that generate more happiness.
The affluent may be able to afford and get the support they need but they would often engage in activities that push their career ambition and wealth more.
If that brings you greater happiness then there is nothing wrong with that. But often, we might not know whether we are ultimately happy or not. Usually, we will only reflect when we are near breaking point.
If you buy time, use the extra time saved on something that lives your mood. Research shows that if you spend on leisure like exercising and volunteering, you derive greater happiness. You would derive less happiness from passive activities such as watching TV or napping.
Mental Accounting is a Joy Killer
Hourly-wage workers often engage in mental accounting of their time.
They account that their time carries monetary value.
Folks whose mental account tend to be more impatient and experience less pleasure during leisure activities like listening to music.
Focusing on finances is not bad.
It motivates us to exert extra effort on challenging tasks such as putting in long hours so that we can perform better. The danger is that we tend to also work more, socialize less, and experience greater psychological and physiological stress.
The solution to this is to be more productive in prioritizing the tasks that improve your career or bring in the money. If you managed to settle that before the lower priority stuff, you would mental account less and be able to enjoy more.
However, if you are not so productive or your work environment is just challenging, ultimately you have less time to spend on pursuits that give more happiness. There is not much you can do other than switch working environment or choose to lower your job expectations as you reduce the level you deliver at work.
Experiential Purchases Bring More Joy. But Material Purchases is an Experience by Itself
- Material spending is more practical because the item last longer than you remember experiences
- Experiences provide more joy over longer periods. Our experiences can be fleeting. The joy is derived during the planning stages. During this stage, the joy was derived during the anticipation. The joy is also derived when you recall those memories.
There are a lot of upside of experiences:
- It cultivates connection and feelings of belonging
- More reflective of a person’s identity and their sense of self
- We are a sum of our experiences
- We bond with people moreover experiences than over our possessions
- We get jealous of other’s physical possessions. Experiences are less susceptible to jealousy
However, the entry card for some experiences are…. a material purchase.
The anticipation of the purchase, the research, and the sharing of experience behind the material purchase such as a camera, a phone, a car can bring happiness.
Only if you rein in that human instinct to compare.
Derive Happiness from Simple Things in Life
This can be seen as a frugal hack.
But if you do not have much money, what can you do to be happy? You got to “Lan Lan” and learn to be happy with the simple things in life.
Learn to derive from simple pleasures such as eating sweets, talking to a friend.
I don’t think that just because you don’t spend a lot of money, you cannot derive true happiness. There are folks who spend enough money on an European trip with their spouse, only to freaking fight on the whole trip.
They would definitely remember that trip months later and able to recall the events but that is definitely not a very happy experience.
True happiness is a state of mind. Two person can go to Changi beach for a walk.
One may be happy seeing families gathering and be thankful for the nice weather (so that he can run) while the other person will feel anxious that he has to finish his run fast so that he can go home to finish up some work.
Learn to Give and Help
The research shows that when people think about experiences rather than posessions, they end up being more generous to others.
We also tend to be more thankful for what we have done than we are for what we have.
The feeling of gratitude comes with a lot of psychological benefits, including prosocial behaviors like giving.
I tend to think that your ability to spend on others willingly is an evidence that your well-being is better.
Evolutionary theorists argue that altruistic behavior is a survival trait much like eating or having sex.
Form Deeper Relationships
Almost all my points have a certain thing in common: They all involves something social.
Giving someone something to help them. Buy time to spend with family and friends. Learn to derive simple things in life such as meeting a friend for coffee.
Humans are social creatures and so there is a relationship between our happiness with other human relationships.
The key thing is that the relationship needs to be deep enough.
It is not the number of friends you have but the number of deep enough relationships you manage to form.
How do you go about forming relationships that are deep enough? I have no idea about that. You would probably have to ask someone else.
Here are two more articles I wrote in the past on happiness:
- What if Your Life’s Happiness and Success Can Be Seen as Equations?
- Controlled Progress Creates Happiness in Your Life
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