The World Happiness Report is out, and a group of independent experts have now compiled surveys of people in 156 countries, asking them to evaluate their lives on a scale of 1-10. They then looked at some of the factors that seem to contribute to happiness, and identified five: real GDP per capita (a measure of average wealth); healthy life expectancy at birth; freedom to make life choices; generosity; and whether or not they perceived their society to have elements of corruption.
We all know that money can’t buy you happiness, right? As it turns out, this is not exactly true.
A recent study by University of Michigan economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, examining data from more than 150 countries using World Bank data, has shed new light on the interaction between happiness and the size of your bank account. Their first conclusion: the more money you have, the happier you tend to be, regardless of where you are on the income spectrum. They concluded that multi-millionaires don’t think of themselves as “rich.”
If you answered “money,” or anything to do with meditation or networking skills, you’re off the mark, according to Jason Butler, a former financial planner who is currently working as a motivational speaker. He says that after reading biographies of political, business, scientific and charity leaders, and hearing the personal stories of several hundred financial planning clients, one factor tends to be present in the happiest, most successful individuals, and it’s entirely in your control: who you surround yourself with. Call it your “association factor.”
There are several dimensions to this. If you’re an athlete who wants to improve your fitness or skill level, hanging out with (competing with) superior athletes will do more to help you ‘up your game’ than if you were associating with people you can beat without breaking a sweat. If you employ or work alongside people who have a diligent and service-oriented attitude, you can delegate work, avoid micromanaging, and feel confident that the workload will be shared fairly. If your social circle is full of people who are pessimistic, negative, defeatist or cynical, then it will pull you into pessimism or defeatism. We all know people who suck the life out of anybody they’re around. Why let it happen to you?
Butler says that cultivating meaningful personal relationships with the right types of people should be an essential priority for anyone who wants to live a meaningful, fulfilling, successful and happy life—which basically means all of us. You should consciously try to surround yourself with people who are optimistic, positive, capable and excited about the future.
The interesting thing about this advice is how few people seem to be intentional about their friendships. Most of us make friends by happenstance, because we shared an experience together or have something in common. Consciously creating a circle of friends, and constantly looking for business relationships that will be productive and supportive, is not often a priority.
But it can be, and the results could be dramatic.
About the Author: Bob Veres has been a commentator, author and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years. Over his 20-year career in the financial services world, Mr. Veres has worked as editor of Financial Planning magazine; as a contributing editor to the Journal of Financial Planning; as a columnist and editor-at-large of Dow Jones Investment Advisor magazine; and as editor of Morningstar’s advisor web site: MorningstarAdvisor.com.
Mr. Veres has been named one of the most influential people in the financial planning profession by Investment Advisor magazine and Financial Planning magazine, was granted the NAPFA Special Achievement Award by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and most recently the Heart of Financial Planning Distinguished Service Award from the Denver-based Financial Planning Association.