Quick, what’s the definition of a happy life? This semester, about a quarter of Yale University’s undergrads signed up to find out, making it the most popular class of all time at the school.
In three days, almost 1,200 students enrolled in the course, “Psychology and the Good Life,” to learn how to live happier, more satisfying lives.
During twice-weekly lectures, the group of high-achieving students learned that what they assumed would bring them life satisfaction — good grades, prestigious internships and high-paying jobs — wasn’t really the recipe for a happy life. Instead, they were encouraged to make positive behavioral changes by developing habits for increasing social connections and getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
“Scientists didn’t realize this in the same way 10 or so years ago, that our intuitions about what will make us happy, like winning the lottery and getting a good grade — are totally wrong,” the course’s instructor, Laurie Santos, told The New York Times.
What these students learned — how to put the emphasis on the quality of life rather than focusing on a standard of living — were habits that could easily be translated to the world of personal finance.
What is ‘quality of life’?
It’s pretty easy to measure your standard of living: it’s the amount of money you make, the size of your house, the type of car that you drive. Pretty quantitative stuff.
But your quality of life is a lot harder to define. It takes into account physical and psychological health, relationships and overall life satisfaction. But it’s also deeply personal and requires introspection because what makes you happy might not bring your neighbor the same level of satisfaction.
In the past, the strategy for financial planning was to accumulate wealth for what you could buy and left you open to measuring your success against what others had, which is not always wise. “Comparison,” as Theodore Roosevelt noted, “is the thief of joy.”
Instead, we encourage clients to give their earnings a purpose by identifying the life they would like to live and we help them develop goals to get there. Instead of using a raise to buy a bigger house or car, the money might be used to go back to school and learn new professional skills -- maybe it’s time for a job change. Maybe they use the money to quit working full time to spend more time with the kids or take care of aging relatives. Or maybe its just checking off one item on the bucket list.
“There’s a psychological phenomenon of mis-wanting, wanting the wrong things. We work really hard to get a great salary, or buy this huge house, but we’ve forecasted wrong,” said Santos. “Those things are not going to make us as happy as we think.”
Improving your own quality of life
It’s not magic. It’s just giving people permission to dream and then working together to create a plan to achieve their goals. We work with clients to make that optimal life a reality, successfully leveraging finances as part of their own, personal roadmap to their own very personal - heartfelt - vision of success.
For example, we had a young couple with a new baby who struggled to find a good work balance. The wife commuted over two hours to work each day and found she didn’t have enough time to spend with their child. But she was also pretty entrepreneurial and had an idea for starting a new business but they worried about the loss of income until she could get it off the ground. We helped them create a vision of what that would look like, how to make that financial picture a reality. The couple initially decided she would leave her job in June but was so motivated to make it happen, they took the ball and ran with it and she ended up resigning four months earlier than planned.
Another client was a widower who’d founded and worked for a major corporation for 30 years. He wasn’t miserable at his job -- he was a chemist there and he felt proud of what he’d accomplished. He’d also reached a point in his career where reporting to work was more about comfort in maintaining the status quo than taking a risk in following a dream.
Although he was financially able to retire, he held onto an incredible amount of loyalty for the company that kept him from making the leap. Over the course of a number of conversations — which gave him the space to start examining what was most important in his life — he shared with us that his passion was writing science fiction in his spare time. Imagine his excitement when he gave himself permission to break out of that status quo thinking, and decided that he could retire and work full time on what brought him joy.
If you would like to explore a path for living your optimal life, call Blue Blaze at (732) 333-8160 and let our team of experienced advisors help you create your best quality of life.
“We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own interest, our own values, our own temperament,” says writer Gretchen Rubin who studies happiness, good habits and human nature and is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project. “The more we know ourselves, the more we can build a life that reflects what’s true about us.”
Photo credits: Timo Stern - banner image, and Holly Mandarich - girl hiking in the mountains, from Upsplash