How to “buy” happiness

September 20, 2006

Yes, you can buy happiness.

According to a 2004 poll by Associated Press, 56% of people earning more than $75,000 a year say they are “very satisfied” with life, while only 24% of people earning $25,000 or less a year say the say thing about their lives. However money can’t guarantee happiness.

After all, according to those numbers, 44% pf people who earned more than $75,000 a year didn’t claim to be “very satisfied” with life.

There are certain things in life which are more important to happiness, than money: good health, a happy family life, good relationships, friends, a stress-free (or less stressful) life. Money can help to improve many of these factors, but first, a brief mention of the two most important things that money can’t buy:

  1. Hearts: Just like the song, you “can’t buy me love”. Getting someone to love you takes a lot of things, including plain dumb luck. Never try to spend your way into someone’s heart.
  2. Respect and Admiration: Your new luxury car or huge plasma TV will not make people admire you. Yes, they will think you are trying to impress. And of course they will wonder about just how insecure you are. But if you want someone to look up to you, you’ll have to make use of what you have inside yourself, not what you have inside your garage.

Despite the fact that money can’t guarantee happiness, there are some ways in which money will make you happier:

  1. Comfort: Money can buy you a sense of security. Not having to worry about the details of survival is a wonderful things. Insurance and health cover remove some of the uncertainties that would plague us otherwise.
  2. Education: We’re happier when faced with a challenge, and we have an immense capacity to grow. Whether it’s learning about art history or taking cooking classes, most of us have interests which we’d be happier pursuing.
  3. Travel: Travel broadens our horizons and lets us experience the wonder of something new. The funny thing is, even if a trip is bad, we tend to remember a lot of great things about it, later on.
  4. A life full of experiences: I am definitely a person who’d prefer to save the money than to splurge on Starbucks, but small daily pleasures do add up, whether it’s gourmet coffee, great home-cooked food, or a glass of nice wine. For some people, life is better when it’s enriched with the arts: reading a daily poem, or visiting the museum, might be your cup of tea.
  5. Memories: Life is better when you have something to remind yourself of your wonderful past. Take pictures, buy silly souvenirs, and leave things that remind you of where you’ve been, nearby.
  6. Beautiful surroundings: Money can buy you a nice home, nice interior decoration, and expensive flowers. As humans, we tend to appreciate the beautiful things in life, so it’s worthwhile spending to make our living spaces a joy to look at.
  7. Beauty: We may be fickle, but study after study shows that attractive people are happier. I’m completely against obsessing with looks, but spending a bit for a good haircut, comfortable and stylish clothes, and mood-enhancing perfume, certainly pays off. And any woman will tell you that shoes are a girl’s second-best friend 🙂
  8. Nearness to work: I can’t remember the exact studies right now, but I once read about how the daily commute adds to our stress. And I don’t think that anyone loves their commute. So, live near your office, or work at home. If you can’t do those, try to make the commute less horrible, be it with an i-Pod, or a chauffeur-driven car.
  9. Health: Money can’t buy you health, but you can certainly spend on healthy things that will make you feel better, including organic food, a swimming pool and gym membership. It’s up to you to put the healthy things you buy, to good use. Of course, money can also buy treatment options, but a good health plan should cover those.
  10. Relaxation: Soothing music, yoga classes and massages: don’t dismiss them before you’ve tried them.
  11. Friends: In no way can money buy you friends. But we’re happy when we’re social, and money spent on friends and being friendly, makes us happier in the long run. So, that Sunday brunch, your best friend’s birthday gift, and the dinner party you were planning to host, are all worth the time and effort. And money.
  12. Kids: Obviously, I’m not suggesting you buy kids, or even attempt to buy their affection. But they’re expensive brats, and spending on them goes a long way (as any parent will attest). I feel like this is a self-explanatory point, but whether it’s spending to get the kids out of the way (baby sitting) or to make them more tolerable to be around (education, entertainment, food, etc) kids tend to make us happier.
  13. Pets: Furry friends make our lives fun, and studies show that they lead to lower stress. Unfortunately, just like kids, pets tend to be expensive: apparently, they’re worth that expense.
  14. Romance: Your relationship with your s.o. is the most important one in your life, so spend what you need to, to make it work: from flowers to diamonds to a second honeymoon.
  15. Time: This, in my opinion, is the single most important thing that money can buy. None of us have more than 24 hours in a day. Trying to extract the most out of each of those precious hours is one of the most difficult things to do. Money can help you to do it, be it through gadgets, a chauffeur or a private jet.

I’m a very anti-consumer-debt person, so I don’t think any of the above is worth buying on credit. Although buying something on credit might make you happy temporarily, in the long run, you’re likely to have to cut back on your lifestyle in order to repay those loans.

Many of these items are not applicable to people trying to live on a stringent budget, for whatever reason. However, if you’ve got the cash and are considering whether to buy a yatch or a luxury sedan, don’t. Spend the money on a chauffeur instead, or use it to visit your local cafe each day, where you can enjoy gourmet coffee and meet new friends.

This post is part of the group blogging project at Problogger. It’s also a continuation of my series on how to be happy, the first of which was on happiness and health.

I’ve added this post to my new blog, Happiness Creator. Please visit it 🙂


Happiness and Health

September 13, 2006

I have decided that my previous post regarding happiness barely scratched the surface of the topic. So, I’ve decided to do a series of post on the relationship between happiness, and certain things…

This is the first post of that series. Happiness and physical health.

The funny thing about health is that most of us don’t appreciate it till it’s taken away from us.

For anyone trying to improve their lives, the first aspect that they should attack is their health. Physically healthy people tend to be happier. An improvement in the state of your health has many benefits, including greater mental clarity, greater focus and greater energy, which can then be used to improve other areas of your life.

So how can you go about trying to improve your health?

The first step is to recognize that you want to be healthy, and to set that as an intention. Most people don’t pay attention to how they feel physically, until they feel distress. The first step is to actively try to improve the way you feel physically. This will include trying to learn methods of improving your health, as well as avoiding unhealthy things and seeking out healthy activities.

I would consider exercise to be the most healthy activity. Even if you don’t eat well, the benefits of exercise counter that to a large extent. (I speak from personal experience!)
Exercise doesn’t have to be unpleasant or strenuous, or even very long. Choose an activity you enjoy: take lessons in yoga, go swimming, take a hike and explore the countryside. An easy way is to pick a group activity that focuses more on the fun, than on the movements you’re doing, which is why dancing is so great. Once you’ve gotten used to an increase in your activeness, start working out with weights, which in my opinion, offer the greatest health benefits. Stretching activities like yoga and pilates have amazing after-effects in terms of the relaxation that you feel. A former yoga skeptic, I always tell people that there is no possible way to describe the amazing feeling after a yoga session.

It’s important to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to ill health, as does too much sleep. Try to establish a sleep routine, and to sleep in a dark, quiet, comfortable place. Don’t drink caffeine too near your bed-time.

Speaking of caffeine, the benefits of that are still controversial. One to three cups of tea or coffee are supposed to be beneficial, but I’m still undecided about this. Personally, I’ve developed a slight caffeine addiction, so I don’t think I can deal with this aspect too well. However, I am a firm believer in the beneficial effects of tea and green tea.

Too much alcohol is unhealthy. As is too much food.

Be careful about what you eat. Try to opt for natural foods, of the organic and free range varieties. Avoid sugary, starchy and processed foods.

Get regular check-ups.

Experiment. Listen to people’s experiences, and try out new things. You never know what might work for you. Personally, I am very impressed by the reported health effects of going vegan, and am dying to try it.

Cheat occasionally. Don’t live your life too bound by the rules of trying to be healthy, or you’ll suffocate. Go drinking with friends, sleep in on a weekend, eat a few french fries.

Finally, eat chocolate. Chocolate rules. ’nuff said.

How to be happy

September 12, 2006

“Nothing is worse than a rich girl who feels sorry for herself”. So why is it, that the rich don’t seem to be much happier than the rest of us? Why do we all think that money can’t buy happiness, but pursue it almost blindly, hoping that it will at least rent some joy?
All around us, we see examples of extremely successful people, like actors and athletes, who have made it really big, and yet do not seem to be very content with what they have.  

If money can’t buy happiness, then what can? 

The brief answer is, financial success can only buy financial toys. Money can buy a lot of useful things: toys, time, freedom. But it can’t buy the affection of those we love. And most of the stuff it buys disappoints us in the end.
Some money is absolutely essential. When you’re poor and worried about your next meal, or how to buy something essential, you can’t be happy. Once you reach a certain level of financial achievement, you can be free from those money demons: at least your basic needs are met. 

But more money does not equal more happiness. We always want something more than what we have. When we try to spend our way into happiness, we are never happy because:

  1. We want something more, or something better, and
  2. What we just bought doesn’t seem to live up to the grand expectations we had of it.

The things that bring us most happiness are our friends and family.
A significant number of close friends means that you have people to share your ups and downs with (and you get to go to, and throw, a lot of parties 😉 )
A happy relationship with your spouse is incredibly important for overall happiness.
Children make us happier in the long run: despite what many studies say, anyone will tell you that their children are their greatest joy.

Thankful people are happier. I understand this first-hand, because I started keeping a thankfulness journal once, and I could feel my spirits lift immediately. Thankful people appreciate the wonderful life that they are enjoying. 

Your experiences are what make you happy.
Till that end, money can actually make you happier.
Money spent on enjoyable experiences (travel, an easier or non-existent commute, a brighter living area) is money well spent.
Unlike “stuff”, you enjoy experiences both during the actual occurrence, and in the memories that persist. In fact, your memories often tend to magnify the past, so that the happy parts are exaggerated and the more negative parts overlooked. That’s why pictures of your last vacation usually evoke such powerful feelings. 

Money spent on experiences which are challenging, is money especially well-spent, since most of us are glad to be able to rise to a challenge. Learning to play tennis, for instance, is a great way to spend money because of they joy you get when tackling those difficult moves. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ll blog on happiness in greater detail, because it’s difficult to deal with the topic in one single post. 

It’s tough to break happiness down into each component part, but I think it ultimately boils down to two things: your relationships, and your experiences.

Update: My first post on the happiness series is up here.

10 questions to ask before you join a new job

September 9, 2006

 This post has been uploaded on my new blog, Happiness Creator. Please visit it 🙂

 When hunting for a job, most candidates are so busy trying to sell themselves, that they don’t research the company thoroughly enough to see if they’re a good fit or not.

It’s very important for a candidate to ask questions about the company. If you’re looking for a job, you should definitely try to find out if working at the company will drive you crazy or not 😉

Here are some questions that you should try to get answered. Many of these are not things that you can ask during your interview. The most valuable sources of information are usually friends who are currently working in the company, who know the company somehow, or who are working in the industry. 

Well, here are the questions:  

  1. What type of work will I be doing?
    Establish this one early on. Ask for examples. We recently hired two people to conduct phone surveys. Anyone expecting to create policy reports would have been disappointed. So often, the job description is just a vague generalization of something the HR manager thought should be mentioned. And, in the real world, you will never get exactly what you expect. But it’s always better to ask: for a while, our Brand Management department was looking for people in different areas, although the designation for each was the same. 
  2. Who will be on my team, and what is their background?
    You might be able to find this information online and the answer to this might not really change too much for you. But good people are good to be around. If very talented and smart people are on your team, work is more likely to be fun, you are more likely to meet people you’ll enjoy being around, and at the very least, you’ll pick up something. Good team members indicate that the team is capable, but the lack of them might also indicate that you will have the opportunity to build the team’s capabilities. (Ahem: assuming that you’re that good, of course!) 
  3. Why do you want to hire someone? How will that person contribute?
    Sell yourself, describe how you’ll be able to contribute, and hope that it’s a good match. But wait, why should you just sit and hope? Go ahead and ask, what is it that they would like from their new employee? You’ll gain a much better understanding of what your future at the firm would be like. 
  4. What are the issues facing this team, at the moment?
    This one shows your interest. Ideally, you will not ask this during the interview, but to some nice young people who work in that team. Someone might just mention the rivalry with the other department, and the chance that the division will be eliminated. 
  5. What are the opportunities for this team in the future?
    Don’t ask this if the answer is very obvious. But if the division or project is new, this is the chance for your potential supervisor to paint a rosy future for you. You’ll get to judge if the best-case scenario is really something that you want. 
  6. Will the company ownership change in the near future?
    Ok, so you probably won’t get an answer to this one. But try to find out. If there’s a chance, the rumors will be floating around. Someone working in the industry, or in the banking sector, might be able to answer this.   
  7. What are the pay, benefits, etc?
    You will probably have to negotiate this one after you get the offer. But make sure to negotiate. Don’t just settle by not knowing the details. For instance, these days many companies have rules that state that an employee must return the signing bonus if he/she leaves before a certain period of time. 
  8. Will I need to travel or work late hours?
    Whichever company you decide to join will appreciate it if you forget the clock and finish your work, meet deadlines, and go beyond the call of duty. But ask if late hours are normal (i.e. 4 out of 5 days), if you’ll need to work on weekends regularly, or if you’ll be required to travel a lot. Be honest with yourself as to how much of this you can handle sanely.  
  9. What would be the future career path of someone entering this company in this position?
    Yet another chance for your future supervisor to wax on, hopefully. Just make sure that what he/she makes sense, and seems reasonable.  
  10. What type of experience will I gain?
    This is slightly different from number 1. In essence, you are trying to find out how this position will improve your resume, what kind of value addition you will receive. Will you learn how to work with different types of people, make key contacts in the industry, gain skills that can be transferred to other industries…. What? 

Well, these are the questions that I came up with, I wonder if anyone has more suggestions?

5 tips to reduce the hurt of a lay-off and 10 tips for dealing with unexpected job loss

August 29, 2006

Mighty Bargain Hunter has a group writing project about preparing for, or dealing with, job loss.

So, I decided to take part with my 2 cents, or rather, my 15 tips 🙂

The first section is sort of buffer plan: how to lower your chances of getting laid off, and to lower your chances of getting hurt too badly if you are laid off. The second part deals with strategies for dealing with actually losing your job unexpectedly.

So without further ado…

5 tips to reduce the hurt of a lay-off:

  1. Try not to get laid off in the first place. This is not always possible to do (think Enron), but try your best. Work hard, contribute, and impress your bosses. Don’t be the Invisible Guy: he’s the first to feel the axe. Be the superstar whom everyone else is eyeing for their own company.
  2. Increase your knowledge. Remember, the best investment is an investment in you. Any way in which you improve your own value will help you down the road. Read a lot; stay updated on your industry, the economy, and the global scenario. Remember that learning never ends. Take advantage of as much company sponsored learning and growth opportunities as you can.
  3. Increase your network. Stay in touch with people, and meet new people. This point requires a whole post of its own, but the basics are: take as many opportunities as you can to meet people. Stay in touch, and be nice to them. Try to help anyone you can. Later, if you need a job, you can always ask these people if they know of anything.
  4. Have a side business. Diversify your income sources, so that a lay-off will not hurt you too badly. With home businesses and internet businesses a reality, you have few excuses for not having one of your own. Train yourself and invest time and effort in your business.
  5. Prepare a budget and stick to it. Prepare a contingency budget, and know how much you have in terms of emergency funds.

10 tips for dealing with unexpected job loss:

  1. Deal with your emotional issues first. It’s natural to feel anger at the company, and the top management who still receive all their perks; it’s normal to be scared of the future. You might find yourself dealing with a myriad of emotions. Do whatever you can to deal with them, instead of taking them out on others. If the company offers free counseling, take it; if necessary, pay for a counseling session yourself.
  2.  Go through your contingency budget plan. If you don’t have one already, make one and try to stick to it. Allow for occasional indulgences, and reward yourself for any achievements.
  3. Think of ways to live frugally. There are so many tips and websites out there, that this should not be too difficult to learn about.
  4. Go through all the legal steps you have to. You may need to sign papers, give an exit interview, sign up for unemployment benefits, etc. Do them all calmly. Do not waive any rights without getting something in return.
  5. If you already have a side business, devote more time to it. If you don’t have one, start a side business which will earn some income for you.
  6. Develop yourself: learn more, take courses, read, pursue a hobby or interest which you haven’t had time for.
  7. Look for a new job: this is a d’oh action, but one which some people are reluctant to begin. That’s ok, break it into small steps. Start by looking for a job, then apply by sending your resume and contacting the relevant person. Give the interviews, and hope that you’ll get one that’s better than your previous job. On the other hand, if your side business does very well, you may want to devote all your attention to developing it into a more profitable income source.
  8. Remember all those people you networked with? If you’re looking for a job, now’s the time to give those guys a call. Mention clearly that you’re looking for a job, and ask if they know of any openings. Most people are happy to help.
  9. Ask for help if you need it. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, people who love you would help you out if you only asked. Be it a place to live for a few days, a small loan, editing your resume or helping you buy “interview clothes”, most people would like to help you out. Make sure you give them that chance, if you’d like them to.
  10. Finally, take a break. Now that you don’t have a job to stress about, take a mini-vacation. If you can’t afford to go anywhere, do some meditation and soul-searching. Make the most of the free time that you have.

I hope that you don’t get laid off. If you do, I hope that the guidelines are of some help. in the long run, change usually turns out to be a good thing, so don’t get too depressed if you’re fired.  Everything works out, ultimately.

Career advice for college students

August 23, 2006

It’s never too early to begin thinking about a career. I’m frequently asked for career advice by cousins who are about to enter college, or those who are in their sophomore or junior years, so I’ve come up with some thoughts about what a college student could do. I occasionally interview and select interns and new recruits at my organization, and I can now understand the recruitment process from different perspectives.

The first thing that any young person should be aware of, is what he or she really wants from life. It’s never too early to begin some soul-searching. List the top 5 things that you want to achieve over your life-time. Be honest, and as specific as possible (e.g. I want to live in the Bahamas, not doing anything all day, with my three girlfriends who are all swimsuit models). Rest assured that your goals with change as you grow older, but things will be a lot easier if you start making plans for your life.

Be clear about what it is that you want from your career. Do you want to make a lot of money? Would you do that by climbing to a top management position, or would start a business after a few years experience?

Ideally, you would want a high-paying job that would also enable you to enjoy a stress-free life. (I can warn you that it’s not going to happen, but you knew that already, right?) Think about what’s important to you, what interests you, and you’ll be able to come up with  some possible fields you’d like to go into. Of course, if you already know exactly what niche you want to work in (be it advertising or massage therapy) that makes life a lot simpler: all you need to do is to concentrate your energies on that field of study, and you’re almost certain to get a job.

For those who have a vague idea (i.e. good pay, good hours), a good option is a liberal arts degree, or a major in a relatively job-friendly subject (communications, physics, economics). Of course, if you love art history but want a job in the corporate world, you should feel free to go down that route. It’s possible to get a corporate job with a major in a non-typical subject, but it will, of course, be slightly more difficult.

Take as many courses in college, which you feel you would enjoy.

Try to get good grades in college. Grades are not everything, and hiring decisions are not based on grades. Still, make an effort so that you can be proud of yourself. It definitely does help if you’re on the Dean’s List, but even if you’re not, make sure that you can say, “I tried my very best”.

Get involved. Play sports, join a club, do volunteer work. These things will help to impress interviewers, but pick activities which you’ll enjoy. Try to participate in leadership roles.  This will teach you management and responsibility.

Make friends. As many as possible. Not only do friends make your life fun, but friends are an important source of information. Try to make friends with people who are a year or two above you, as well as those in your year.  Your older friends will later be able to provide you with valuable advice regarding the job market.

Do some work. Start as early as possible, so that you’ll have no ego hang-ups about doing what you think is menial work. Get internships, even if they’re unpaid. Even if you think you’re not doing serious work, you’ll at least learn how to interact in an office environment.

Finally, your college years should be those when you enjoy yourself. Work life is a drag, and your college years should be some of the best times of your life. Follow the basic principles outlined above, and forget about looking for a job until you’re in your senior year and actively being recruited!