Happiness and Wellbeing are an essential part of health. Stress from any cause is highly detrimental to health and research has indicated that stress is a factor in up to 85% of all illness. It can cause illness or aggravate existing illness. Nechama was a middle-aged women who I met two years ago. If you looked at her blood tests, the results seemed to indicate that she was in good health. Her weight wasn’t bad and blood pressure was only borderline high. All in all, things seemed good, but she never felt well and was always getting sick. It was all stress, and it was all coming from what she perceived as financial problems in her family.
Does money buy happiness? Well, yes—or no—or maybe-sometimes. The question that begs to be asked really is do you need money to be happy? The answer is really yes, no, and maybe. It all depends on how we look at the situation.
Over my 19 years as a fitness professional and wellness coach, there barely is a week that goes by where I don’t hear from someone about the stress that has been created in their life because of their finances. Somehow, even though they are working hard and their spouse is working hard, they never seem to have enough money for what they deem to be their essential needs. Whether this is something perceived or real might be the subject of a different article, but to these people it is very real and it causes them very damaging stress. A survey by the American Psychological Association in 2014 showed an astounding 72% of people saying they had had financial pressure or stress during the previous month—yes-72 percent!
Tom Rath and Jim Harter are both Gallup poll researchers. They have done considerable research on well-being including financial well-being. Their compilation of research shows some interesting, although sometimes contradictory trends. First, when looking at the overall public health, they found that people who live in countries with a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita have a higher degree of wellbeing for the population as a whole. So the wealthier your country, the better off you are. But can an individual buy his wellbeing? Rath and Harter quote a study done by a team of Harvard researchers who surveyed people about their spending on themselves and spending on others. It seems that spending money on oneself does NOT boost your happiness or wellbeing. However, spending money on others does-and it appears to be as important to people’s happiness as the total amount of money they may earn. Chazal tell us that Olam Chesed Yibane—the world is built on acts of kindness. If you have indeed participated in acts of chesed, you understand the internal good feelings you have from helping others.
According to happiness researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside, 40% of our happiness is within our power to change through our actions and thoughts. Another 50% can be attributed to genes. Surprisingly, only 10% of our happiness is associated with life circumstances, such as money, health, marriage, appearance, etc. Dr. Lyubomirsky also states that exercise may well be the most effective booster of instant happiness. If you make fitness a life-long endeavor, it can help you make happiness life-long as well. Aside from this, Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology notes that doing an act of kindness (a Chesed) produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of interventions he has tested. This affirms the Harvard study about spending on others.
Many times when we are feeling sad, we try to use money to cheer ourselves up. Many people think that going out on a shopping spree will make them feel happier. The end result is usually going out and spending a lot of money on things we might not need and then feeling worse than before. One survey actually showed that when you shop in order to feel happier, you may spend much more on any given product that you would have ordinarily. On the other hand, according to Rath and Harter, when you plan an evening out or a vacation, you have something to look forward to, you enjoy the experience and you have memories that can last for a long time. This would be one area where money can contribute to your happiness.
All of us seem to try one way or another to earn more money. After all, it is true that being able to pay your monthly bills, your children’s school tuition, being able to clothe your family and have a little money left for an occasional fun day or vacation can go a long way towards keeping stress levels down and happiness up. But a very interesting study from the field of behavioral economics have exposed the irrationality of our financial decision making. We all are what scientists call “loss averse.” In other words, it hurts a lot more to lose $50 that we already have than it feels good to win or earn $50. So couple that with that fact that people who make wealth accumulation a target and goal in their life never seem to find a sense of security (they probably keep raising their goal numbers) and we see that striving for and achieving the earning of more money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness and good feelings to people. What does? A general sense of financial security—in other words, LESS WORRY! Get this factoid: The perception that you have more than enough money to do what you want to do has three times the impact of your income alone on overall wellbeing. So if you keep things in perspective and understand that you don’t have to be wealthy to be happy-you will be happy with less money. If anything, people always striving for more and more income and money, don’t seem to attain happiness.
If you do want money to contribute to your future happiness, invest to minimize your stress. Live modestly but always invest in your future. Minimal investment in your retirement and small saving so you have money for major events (a new appliance, your’s son’s Bar Mitzvah Kiddush, a Yom Tov gift for your wife) will keep the stress down. Small contributions each month will build up over time. Don’t spend what you don’t have! Yes, sometimes we have no choice but to use credit, such as buying an apartment or home or large appliance but be sure you can make that monthly payment so you can pay back your loan. According to another survey that Rath and Harter made, many people with lower incomes feel financially secure and worry very little about their money and therefore build up their wellbeing and happiness.
When Nechama came to realizations about money and finances that helped her be less stressed, along with other stress management interventions, her life and health improved greatly. No more getting sick and her blood pressure slowly fell back into the normal range.
Money will not in and of itself bring you happiness. However using your money for chesed and mitzvos will. The Mishna in Avos tells us; “Ben Zoma said: …..Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: ‘When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2).”
(For those of you who need financial counseling of any kind, the Mesilla organization, which has offices worldwide, is extremely helpful and professional)
Happiness is an integral part of overall health. So be happy with your portion and use your money for helping others and it will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”