Happiness and financial security

Happiness and financial security

Women and Money: Money equals security, which can lead to happiness

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cherry Hill Courier Post

The folks at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania have come up with a questionnaire that’s been getting a lot of press.

Yet nowhere in the Authentic Happiness Inventory does the issue of money — or, more important, our desire for financial security — merit a mention.

Given how expensive our lives are, how can money not be a factor? We have huge mortgages and tapped-out home equity lines of credit weighing on us. College tuition bills have never been more daunting. Our employers are less likely to give us a defined-benefit pension, so the onus is on us — and our 401(k)s — to figure out how we’ll be able to afford retirement. If we’re lucky enough to get health insurance through our employer, the trend is for each of us to be responsible for a greater portion of the bill.

I wish authentic happiness was achievable solely from the richness of relationships, but I’m a realist. And the reality I see is one in which money plays into our ability to be truly happy.

I’m talking about how your happiness is affected when you’re worried about how you’ll pay the bills at the end of the month, save for the future and be able to afford to retire. In other words, how you’ll make ends meet. When those worries are your reality, I think it’s hard to be authentically happy.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so. A survey conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center reports that, overall, just 34 percent of respondents are very happy.

But when you start to slice the findings by income, it gets interesting: 49 percent of respondents with an annual family income above $100,000 say they are very happy. When income falls between $75,000 and $100,000, the very-happy contingent falls to 38 percent. Just 24 percent of those with incomes below $30,000 said they were very happy. I’m in no way saying money is all that matters. But I’m so tired of how scared everyone is to admit money does make a difference in the quality of our lives.

When I talk about money this way to a group, invariably someone comes up to me afterward and says, ‘suze, you are so wrong. Money isn’t the key to life, this is!” At which point her wallet flies open, and she shows me a photo of her family.

That’s when I start asking her questions: Did you take that photo with your own camera? Was the photo taken on a family vacation? Are those braces I see on the two teenagers? Do you want to help those kids go to college?

As her head bobs in successive “yes” nods, I ask her how she provides all of that for her family. That’s when she understands what I’m saying.

Without meaningful relationships, there’s no chance of ever being truly, authentically happy. But money does have a place at the table. If you don’t have money to buy things, you’re going to be frustrated. It’s that simple.

Women & Money appears Mondays. Suze Orman is an author and TV host.