CAN MONEY BUY HAPPINESS?

There’s no denying money is important to happiness. Ask anyone who doesn’t have it. People living in poverty struggle to buy food to eat, put a roof over their heads, or pay for medicine. But studies show once our income reaches a certain  point and our basic needs are covered, more money does not result in significantly more happiness. Sure, you might get a brief surge of it when you drive away in that new car or buy that coat you’ve been coveting. But the rush quickly subsides, and pretty soon you’ll be back to fantasising about the next outfit/house/holiday that you think will make you happy. What’s more, sometimes having more money brings its own set of negatives. Buy that dream home and you may suddenly find yourself having to work longer hours in a more stressful job, just to pay the mortgage.

This (unfortunately natural) tendency of forever chasing rainbows is officially called the hedonic treadmill. It’s actually a concept that dates back centuries. Apparently, we’ve always been like this! But if you are truly on a quest for happiness it’s time to forego some of that money-crazy materialism, and focus on some other key areas of your life – areas that are better able to boost your happiness not just fleetingly, but also long-term.

DO GOOD WORK
The main driver for many of us to get up and go to work every day is money. It plays an important role – it enables us to house and feed our families for starters. But there’s nothing that sucks the joy out of life as quickly as doing a job you hate. Job satisfaction plays a massive part in personal wellbeing . Find purpose in your work, and life suddenly looks a whole lot brighter.

A recent survey by Georgetown associate professor Christine Porath and The Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz  found that the jobs that make us the happiest share  these four common characteristics: renewal, value, focus and purpose.

  • Renewal – great news folks! Turns out taking regular breaks at work is not slacking, it actually increases your productivity. Apparently, staff who take a break every 90 minutes are 30% more focused, have a 50% greater capacity to think creatively, and report a 46% higher level of health and wellbeing.
  • Value – everybody needs to feel valued, and that’s where good employers  really come into their own. Receive the right support from above and employees are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organisation and 67% more engaged.
  • Focus – the ability to multi-task is a vital skill in today’s workplace, but there’s a definite downside. Being able to focus on one task at a time gets the job done quicker, and better, plus you won’t feel so drained at the end of it. The solution? Prioritise your tasks and pour all your energy into one specific task at a time. Don’t get side-tracked.
  • Purpose – find meaning in your work and you’ll be three times as likely to stay with your organisation. If you feel you are not contributing anything to society it’s easy to become discouraged, but maybe you just need a fresh perspective. There are meaningful (and not so meaningful) aspects to every job. Find the things that resonate with you best and try to do more of them.

Now of course the concept of “work” isn’t strictly limited to paid employment. The majority of us also have to squeeze in our fair share of unpaid work – that’s stuff like cooking and cleaning and laundry. According to a recent Harvard study, if you can afford to pay someone else to do some of these more menial tasks it’s well worth it. They say giving yourself the gift of more time is a sure-fire way to feeling happier. I’m sold!

DO YOUR BEST TO LIVE IN A HAPPY PLACE

Where you live plays a massive role in how happy you are. According to the 2019 World Happiness Report (a survey which ranks the global happiness of 156 countries based on how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be), Finland is the happiest country in the world to live. Followed hot on the heels by Denmark and Norway.

According to the report there are six factors that account for happiness within a country. These are:

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita
  • Social support
  • Health and life expectancy
  • Social freedom
  • Generosity
  • Absence of corruption

OK so we might not make the top three, but the news is still pretty good for those of us living Down Under. New Zealand is ranked 8th in the survey, tucked in nicely between Canada and Australia.

Many of the world’s population are not so fortunate to live in a happy country, instead being born in places that are war-torn, poverty stricken, or prone to natural disasters. Those of us living in New Zealand should count our blessings every day for living where we do. Afterall, the practice of gratitude is another powerful way to increase your happiness.

When you drill down beyond the country you reside in, you’ll discover that the community you live in also has a huge impact on how happy, or unhappy, you feel. Feeling connected to those around you is crucial. Get to know your neighbours, participate in community gatherings, and embrace social opportunities in your local area. Whether you live in an inner city apartment block, or a house in the suburbs, when you feel like you are part of ‘the hood’, coming home each day is always a joy.

According to a survey of 43,000 people in 26 communities (conducted by the Knight Foundation and Gallup) the three factors that make for the happiest communities are:

  • Friendly, welcoming and inclusive
  • Lots of beautiful green space
  • Plenty of places to connect with others (think parks, cafes, community spaces)

Find somewhere that’s got all this and chances are you’ve struck gold.

But it’s not just what’s outside the front gate that’s important. There’s a lot you can do in your own backyard to elevate your mood and improve wellbeing. Dubbed ‘the world’s most organised person’, Marie Kondo has carved an entire empire based on the premise that the secret to lasting happiness may in fact be tidying up.

She says: “Focusing on what sparks joy for you – instead of what doesn’t – is a simple way to improve your outlook on the world. If you are struggling to figure out what sparks joy for you, my first piece of advice is to tidy your home! Once you are done tidying up, you will find it easier to keep your home – and mental space – clear and focused. By being surrounded only by the things that spark joy, your life naturally begins to achieve clarity.”

The fact that her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising’ turned out to be an international bestseller has got to tell us something. That’s right team, decluttering is good for us. Having a clean, fresh living space that is not full of junk can help you feel calm, in control, and ready to take on the world.

So, what’s the best way to declutter? Well, Kondo’s “bible” shares a few tips.

Tip #1: Tackle categories not rooms – she advises beginning with clothing and suggests taking an afternoon to organise your wardrobe and drawers, by first emptying everything onto your bed before beginning the sorting process. Keep only what you wear and love. Once you’ve ticked off clothes, she suggests starting on books.

Tip #2: Respect your belongings – are your clothes truly happy being shoved in the back of the wardrobe?! Do all those ornaments really enjoy being covered in dust?!

Tip #3: Nostalgia is not your friend – start tidying up and it’s easy to find yourself down a rabbit hole  of nostalgia when you stumble upon sentimental stuff like old letters and photos. Kondo says focus only on one category at a time, and don’t get side-tracked.

Tip #4: Purging feels GOOD – your mind will feel lighter and your house will look amazing. Repeat after me…

Tip #5: Fold, don’t hang – you guessed it, Kondo even has her own special folding techniques. Master those and you’ll miraculously fit the majority of your clothes in a set of drawers (well, what’s left of them after you’ve decluttered). Better still, you’ll have a wardrobe where your clothes can see the light of day and you can actually find what you’re looking for. Win-win!

Kondo is just one of a host of happiness gurus who are now making their living by teaching the rest of us how to tidy our homes and minds. Our great grandmothers would be turning in their graves.

Another master – Gretchen Rubin –  is a strong advocate for keeping only what you love, and spending money on experiences not things. These points are hard to argue with. She also has a brilliant list of one minute tasks that will have you feeling better in no time (well in 60 seconds actually). My favourite is make your bed every morning. Not only does it get your day off to a good start, it makes for a much nicer end of the day too. It’s the perfect bookend.

Here are some of Rubin’s other one minute tasks:

  • Hang up a coat
  • Read a letter and toss it
  • Fill in a form
  • Answer an email
  • Jot down a citation
  • Check your phone messages
  • File a paper
  • Put a dish in the dishwasher
  • Put away the magazines and newspapers

So, there you have it. Even if you’re time poor, there are a plenty of things you can do to make your home – and your life – that little bit happier.