The short answer is ‘yes’, but only up to a point. People in richer countries are, collectively, happier than people in poor countries. Within countries, people with higher incomes are generally happier than people on low incomes. Surprisingly, once basic living needs are met, the amount of happiness gained from each additional dollar of income rapidly declines.
What is ‘happiness’?
What is it about money that contributes to happiness? And what does happiness even mean? Perhaps what people are really expressing is contentment or satisfaction with their lives.
Rather than putting us into a perpetual state of bliss, money is more likely to contribute to a sense of security, better health, less stress and, perhaps above all, choice.
It’s interesting to see what choices boost happiness. For example, in something of a paradox, giving money away makes people feel happier than spending it on themselves.
And experiences such as travel or skydiving, or even just going to a movie, provide more enduring satisfaction than material purchases. Good memories, it seems, provide better value than physical possessions.
Happiness planning or financial planning?
What does this have to do with financial planning?
Well, for many people, their financial plan is all about milestones: buying a house, meeting school fees and funding retirement. Important as these things may be, what’s missing is the journey – and no, that doesn’t mean the insurance premiums, super contributions and mortgage repayments. It means Santorini sunsets, sand between the toes and, perhaps more important than anything, time spent with family and friends.
On that basis, instead of financial planning maybe we should call it ‘happiness planning’?
Of course your plan will have a financial component, but it will be focused on the journey of life, rather than financial destinations; on achieving a balance and knowing what’s ‘enough’. It will be more about experiences, bucket lists and relationships than annuities, tax refunds and superannuation.
Putting it into perspective
Yes, money is important in providing choices and experiences, and that’s probably a major reason why richer people report higher levels of happiness.
And yes, your financial planner is going to mainly focus on super and investments and insurance as the means of opening up more options for you. Just don’t let that become the be all and end all.
More people are happily rejecting the idea of a conventional retirement. Technology is helping to blur the lines between work and play, and Millennials are opting to pursue experiences now with the expectation that they will work in some form well beyond today’s typical retirement age.
So ask yourself: what makes you happy? What sort of choices do you want to be able to make? Then share the answers with your financial planner, and ask for a plan that will not only meet your long-term needs but also allow you to indulge your shorter-term whims and desires.