By Joyce Wayne
As we head toward the new year, it’s a perfect time to think about what makes us happy. Happiness can be an elusive concept, and although most of us strive to attain certain degrees of happiness, it’s difficult to measure and trickier to describe.
In Australia, the CEO of Financial Counselling, Fiona Guthrie, remarks, “We often say that financial stress and mental health are two sides of the same coin, both cause and effect.” There’s no question that uncertainty about finances, lack of clarity or confusion, or anxiety about finances can ruin our sense of security and plunder our hopes and dreams for the future. Financial control is part of the “golden triangle of happiness,” along with a sense of purpose and strong relationships.
As we grow older, the golden triangle of happiness becomes increasingly essential to maintaining mental health. In fact, “according to the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index—a study of the well-being of Australians conducted over the past 20 years—while the amount you earn can affect your well-being, the level of financial control you have also has a significant impact.”
This study indicates that financial control is different from wealth or earnings. If you earn or have access to double the salary or resources of another and still lack financial control, the study shows you feel less happy than someone in control.
The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index reveals that “those earning less than $100,000 a year still rate themselves at least eight out of 10 for being in control of their finances, while those who earned more than $100,000 assessed themselves at five or below out of 10 in terms of financial control. Even if you have a lower income, your well-being doesn’t need to suffer as a result.” What we do need to know is what is coming around the corner and if we are in a position to weather stormy conditions.
For instance, with inflation and job losses on the rise, older Canadians with a confident sense of how much they need to cover the bills, buy the groceries, and operate the car, with some left over for enjoyment, is most crucial to peace of mind and the resilience to ride out the current economic upheavals.
In the past, when I’ve felt least in control of my finances are the times personal relationships became most strained or I lacked the confidence to make crucial decisions — or to act in ways that would improve my financial security.
As we age, it’s vital that we discover strategies to cement financial security along with nurturing strong relationships and ensuring that a sense of purpose infuses our thoughts and activities.
In The Atlantic magazine, the Happiness podcast hosted by Arthur C. Brooks is a thoughtful place to glean ideas about pursuing and maintaining a happy life, whatever your age. Recently, Brooks spoke with Robert Waldinger, the head of the Harvard Study of Adult Development—one of the longest-running studies of human happiness on record. The data from Waldinger’s study, which began back in 1938, have transformed our knowledge of human happiness.
When asked about the search for the secret of happiness and longevity, Waldinger says:
“You need to take care of your body like you’re going to need it for 100 years. And if you do that, you end up much more likely to be happy, as well. And that means exercise. It means eating well. It means when you can, get regular health care. Getting enough sleep.
“But the second thing is a little more surprising; at least it was to us. And that’s that the people who end up not just the happiest but the healthiest are the people who have more social connections and warmer social connections. Connections of all kinds—not just intimate partners, but friends and work colleagues and casual relationships. All of that adds up to a happier and healthier life as you get older.”
I’ve written about the Harvard Study of Adult Development before. For me, it’s the most dependable and direct way to remind me to pursue happiness and health as I age. Since discovering the Harvard study, I’ve stored its finding at the back of my mind as a kind of reference archive and consulted it whenever facing big decisions such as should I take on another project that requires a serious amount of work. Should I make a special effort to stay connected with friends and family? Should I reach out to new friends and participate in new activities? Should I ensure that I keep abreast of current affairs and regularly discuss social and political issues at home or with friends that range beyond our personal lives? With the Harvard Study to back me up, the answer is almost always yes.
Now I have a new standard to enhance the findings of the Harvard Study. Financial control is part of the “golden triangle of happiness,” along with a sense of purpose and strong relationships. Keep that in mind, act on it, and 2023 might turn out to be an outstanding year for you and those closest to you.