Happiness…isn’t there enough written on the topic? Do we really need one more article on the search for happiness, much less one from a financial planning firm? Indeed, Google identifies more than 300 million results when queried for “happiness articles.”
We will be bold, though, and aim for this post to be additive, moving us all a little further down the path to such an elusive destination as “durable happiness.”
Why? Because, we really value happiness! More to the point, we want our clients and community to experience a durable happiness, not dependent on “attractive” life circumstances. Happiness is contagious. Our colleagues, our children, our parents, our friends will all join us when we are regularly finding “happy” in the wake of our challenges, our defeats, our pressures and expectations…even our untimely losses.
As financial advisors, our calling tempts us that well-managed money or attainment of some level of financial security brings happiness. If only it were that easy! Some studies find there to be a relationship between a basic level of income and one’s self-ascribed level of happiness; however, we know there is more to the story.
A couple of months ago, my son and I sat at a stoplight in Any Suburb USA. Next to us a beautiful convertible luxury sports car pulled up…The driver was happy…we know as much because his license plate told us so! Life Rox the plate read (modified to protect the happy). On a side note, have you ever noticed that cars are a great place to talk to teenagers? Not sure why that is the case, but my teenage son and I started talking. A quick recap of the conversation:
Me: J, check out that license plate….thank goodness a rockin’ life doesn’t require a car like that…we would be out of luck!
Jacob: Yeah, we would…he should be driving a 1980 Honda and have the same plate…that would be different.
Me: That would be….isn’t it funny the things we THINK will make us happy? [Jacob has had a rough year healthwise] .…Do you think we have to be in good health to be happy?
Jacob: Hmm. It helps….but maybe not.
Jacob: Yeah….Dad, GO, the light is green!
Isn’t it true? We place the hope for happiness in money or some level of financial security that money and a bigger balance sheet will bring us; or in good health that will afford us fun experiences; or in stuff, in which we find a fleeting satiety. All the while, reminders abound that wealth and resources are neither necessary nor sufficient for genuine happiness. (Please don’t interpret anything written herein a critique of nice cars or vacations or comfortable living….not at all! We ought to have proper expectations for those investments, though.)
Indeed, hundreds of years and millions of lives provide ample evidence of what will NOT bring us happiness. The list is extensive:
Money. Fame. Power. Influence. Success. Possessions. Experiences.
Are the happiest people we know the wealthiest? The most famous or powerful? Are they the busiest?
No, of course not! So, if THESE accomplishments don’t secure “happy,” where do we find it?
The ONE Ingredient
Our lives are filled with ups and downs, successes and failures, gains and losses. To be clear, we all experience losses. Some of our losses appear more awful than others, but the reality is that we all regularly experience loss. How we confront these losses – big and small – has everything to do with Finding Happy.
Perhaps we lose our job, experience betrayal or the destruction of a personal relationship, or fail a mission critical endeavor: large or small, these curve-balls generate frustration and anger. We want to charge the mound. More to the point, the way we relate to the world changes. These moments may turn to weeks, months or years, and, if left untended, to lifetimes.
Indeed, when left untended anger will remain. We will consistently look back to that curve-ball and view those circumstances through a filter of anger and fractured entitlement.
Furthermore, if we are not diligent in how we handle these curve-balls, the manner in which we relate to our “present” and “future” will be compromised. We will feel lost and insecure in our present circumstances, and when we think about the future we will be fearful or anxious.
We all experience these emotions regularly, don’t we? Anger, frustration, insecurity, anxiety. It is no wonder that happiness is so elusive. How do we get there? One word.
We GRIEVE. We engage with our pain and grieve our disappointments…our failures…our slights…our losses. As we grieve, we find our anger turns to acceptance; our insecurity to contentment; our fear of the future turns to an optimism that facilitates our steps forward.
Acceptance, contentment and optimism: These are the roots that form in the fertile ground of life’s losses and disappointments. But happiness is more than acceptance and contentment, isn’t it?
Of course it is. If we can give ourselves more time, give ourselves and our loved ones an extra dose of patience, the questions we ask ourselves may change. How we think about our own entitlement may change. How we think about phrases like “best for our family” or “life isn’t fair” may change. As we reframe these curve-balls, we might just find that our anger turned acceptance blossoms into a REVERENCE for our past; our insecurity turned contentment ultimately brings us a JOY in our present; our fear turned optimism matures into a deep-seated HOPE for the future.
Reverence for past circumstances. Joy today. Hope for our future: Happiness worth pursuing.
Through loss, we ask ourselves the big questions. We express emotions. We give ourselves time. We give ourselves a little more time. We catch glimpses of purpose. We seek significance. We find happy.