One year is ending, another will soon be beginning. As many people do, I tend to reflect on the past year a lot during the holiday season. It’s also a good time to read a few books and one I just finished is called The Pursuit of Happiness by David Myers PhD. I have heard a lot about the book and because it is, in essence, a scientific book about happiness, I thought there would be many interesting outcomes and stories. I wasn’t disappointed.
Of course one of the topics covered was money and how wealth relates to happiness. Somehow decades ago much of our culture became obsessed with consumerism and materialism, believing more “things” would somehow make us happy. Unfortunately, as Dr. Myers book clearly demonstrates, depression increased in direct correlation to this materialism. According to Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, in 1990 the U.S. was twice as rich as in 1957 yet their survey results showed that Americans weren’t any happier.
Epicurus (342-270 BC) believed that happiness “flowed from life’s simple, sustainable pleasures, such as tranquil peace of mind. He felt that wise people remember the past with gratitude, take delight in present pleasures, and regard the eternal future without fear.”
The results of an annual college survey performed by the American Council on Education in 1971 and 1990 show a dramatic change in cultural values. In the survey of 200,000 first year college students, the number of students going to college “to make more money” rose from 50% to almost 75%. The number of students who considered it "essential to become financially well off" rose from 39% in 1971 to 74% in 1990. Those who began college hoping to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life” dropped from 76% in 1971 to 43% in 1990.
These statistics paint a powerful picture of something we intrinsically saw happening. Money became the goal and definition of "success." College freshmen in the 1990’s felt financial prosperity was the priority to a much greater degree than in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the young adults of today’s world have grown up with “more affluence, more depression, and more marital and family misery” as a result. Why? How much is enough? The target continues to move and the question keeps appearing, “is this all there is?”
The scientific studies back up the ancient teachings. Once the basics are covered such as personal freedom, food, water and shelter, the correlation between income and happiness is “modest, and in both the United States and Canada has now dropped to near zero.” Why? Because we’re human, emotional characters that can’t be satisfied long-term by physical “things.”
So why then is the satisfaction of obtaining a long-term goal so short lived? Dr. Myer’s explains that there are two powerful emotional processes occurring; adaptation and social comparison. We adapt over time to our current situation and it becomes “normal.” An example would be the excitement of receiving a large raise at work. It doesn’t take long to get used to that rate of pay on go on with daily life, even if we had been excitedly anticipating that income level for years. The takeway point? It's best to "make our best experiences be something we experience (and appreciate) fairly often." Anotherwords, don't get in the bad habit of saying "I'll be happy when..."
Social comparison, the second factor in temporary satisfaction, exists all around us. Despite the great wealth of our society overall in North America, many people frequently compare themselves to others who may appear more affluent, only to feel bad and sometimes frustrated or less worthy as a result. It’s all relative to the comparison and as Dr. Myer says “happiness depends less on having things than on our attitude toward the things we have.” Bottom line – choose gratitude over envy.
An example of this is the “feeling” of wealth. Perceived wealth has been found to be far more important than absolute or actual wealth in national surveys by the University of Michigan. A person’s actual income and net worth doesn’t influence happiness as much as how satisfied a person is with their income. If a person is content with their income, regardless of the amount, they are more likely to be happy. This makes sense and it also shows where gratitude can make a difference in a positive way and how the act of comparing ourselves to others can have a very negative effect on daily happiness. The “individualism” and feelings of isolation these comparisons create has been linked to depression.
Bring on the Happiness – What Should We Do and What Should We Teach Our Children?
So the research shows that happiness isn’t related to such factors as where you live, how old you are, what sex you are, or your income level.
What is happiness related to? Dr. Myer's work shows happiness is related to:
*Meaningful, supportive relationships
*Health and fitness
*Rest and peacefulness
*Meaningful, challenging work
*Purpose, being a part of something bigger than yourself
*Faith and Hope
*Feeling of Control over Your Life
As Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project points out “happy people seek out joy.”
Cheers to you and your family. Max, Natasha and I wish you a very Happy 2011!
I recently spoke with a grandmother who had just read The Zela Wela Kids Build a Bank storybook to her two grandchildren. She commented to me in a serious tone that she can now see why it is so important to teach children how to handle money while they’re young. “We didn’t teach our children much about managing money, but now that they are grown, I can see that they kept virtually all the same habits they had when they were young. I want to make sure my grandchildren get off to a better start.”
It’s something I’m hearing more and more as adults everywhere are realizing they don’t necessarily want their children or grandchildren to make the same mistakes they have made over the years. Children who grow up with a strong financial background will have an advantage over those who do not and parents and grandparents alike are thinking about this fact in the wake of the recession.
So why get your children off to an early start?
There are many reasons why learning about managing money at an early age young is important. Three of the main reasons include:
It’s easier to start a habit and stick to it if you start early. If young adults develop bad spending habits, it’s much harder for them to change the habit because they have been repeating it for years. Studies show that children develop their attitudes towards money and their habits with money by the age of thirteen, the same age as many other developmental milestones. Thus, encouraging good habits well before this age should help the child significantly when it comes to making good financial decision as an adult.
Secondly, it’s much better for a young child to have a chance to handle money and make mistakes with a few dollars than it is to send them off to college and expect them to learn on their own. Mistakes are not bad things; they are lessons that need to be learned. If a young adult heads off to college with several credit cards and no financial experience, devastating mistakes can occur that can then put the student into ten or twenty thousand dollars worth of debt. For many students this is overwhelming and the results have turned tragic in more than a few unfortunate cases.
Third, it is critical that children learn to set and achieve goals and that goes for the financial part of their lives as well. As they work towards their goal, whether it’s saving for a bike or a toy of some kind, they learn the steps to achieving their goals. Sometimes they will redirect and change course if something isn’t working and they continue on down their path. When the child does achieve their goal, the self esteem they feel is powerful because it shows them what they are capable of. This is a lasting memory. The experience makes them feel more confident, which then allows them to set bigger goals. This is a fundamental lesson in personal development and success. Parents need to give their children the opportunity to set and achieve small goals so they can become bigger.
One of the most critical things a parent or grandparent can do for the children in their family in this day and age is to recognize that teaching financial skills needs to be a priority and that it’s up to them to do it. Even if the child does receive some financial education at school, the majority of early education on the topic will be at home (keep in mind your money management habits are being observed even if they aren't being discussed.) Establishing good spending habits through thoughtful decision making, discussing values and setting goals, these are all things that need to be encouraged and supported at home.
If you are wondering where to start, here are 15 Financial Life Skills your child needs to learn before they head out on their own. The most valuable habit to develop in order to build wealth is #1 and is discussed thoroughly in The Zela Wela Kids Build a Bank.
photo by turtlepatrol at flickr
photo by WVJazzman
The OECD Report on Education released Tuesday has received a fair bit of media attention with good reason. The study, conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), measures academic capabilities of 15-year-olds in math, science, and reading among 65 countries.
China was involved for the first time and Shanghai ranked first in all three categories while Hong Kong ranked second (there was no evaluation of China nationally. Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macao were all scored separately.) This left parents and teachers around the world thinking “what are they doing differently?”
Well, it turns out that two of the major factors are very simple and very powerful. Experts report that Shanghai’s success has a great deal to do with hard work and dedication. Students work hard and feel the most important factor is studying hard. The children believe that learning is the basis of success. This attitude is encouraged and supported by parents with emphasis on long hours of studying so they can improve their attention span as well as knowledge. "Non-attentive" students are not tolerated and are thus not able to interupt or slow down the class. Many children are also tutored in addition to their extensive home studying. Exercise is also considered important and occurs three times during the day.
Although I am simplifying a very detailed report and there are a vast number of factors at work in each countries education system, it appears to me that the Chinese tradition of valuing education is having an effect on their children’s scores. It makes me immediately think about how much screen time many North American children are exposed to, some stats say upwards of five hours a day. For me, the results of this report were a good reason to sit back and reassess how we spend our time and what is truly important.