The Key to Happiness: A Case Study
What constitutes happiness? Surely it is not correlated to the number of 0’s in our bank accounts. Is it then the level of comfort we live in? Our friends and family? A satisfying career? Or is it an individual choice, based on satisfying nothing more than life’s basic necessities?
Our case study describes two people with very different lives. Please read these descriptions with an aim to determine who is happier of the two. There is no right or wrong answer, and this is not a trick question.
She has it all. She lives in a beautiful and trendy condo in one of the most sought-after areas in town. Her place is filled with beautiful and funky furniture, her stainless steel kitchen has all the gadgets, and she has more deck space behind the unit than she knows what to do with.
She has an amazing job, and makes well over $100,000/year. In fact, with each year she has been in this job, the easier it has become, the less she has had to work, and the more money she has made; a pattern with a possible plateau but no real end in sight.
She drives a sportscar, and has all the toys she wishes for, including a motorcycle and skydiving gear among other expensive play-things. When she wants lobster, she eats lobster.
Her social life is very active, and her boyfriend adores her.
She has almost nothing. A few outfits, some toiletries, and her laptop make up her worldly belongings. She doesn’t even have a true home, as she wanders from place to place, living mostly in furnished accommodations and often making due with shared facilities and transient friends.
Although she loves her job, it is not exactly a cash cow. She constantly keeps one eye on the budget, employing frugal living techniques to make her dollar stretch as far as it possibly can. Some of her friends who don’t understand her ways call her “cheap”. She prefers the term “frugal”. Her accusers are the same people who buy lunch every day and drink a case of beer every night; they think she is cheap because she packs her lunch and drinks water.
She drives a 20 year old car (out of necessity) that is an eye-sore but which runs well. She refuses to buy toys, and in fact unless she is prepared to fit it into her backpack and carry it, she refuses to buy anything at all.
She loves food though, and finds creative ways to enjoy and stoke her passion for cooking. Although she cannot remember the last time she had lobster, she counts it among her favorite foods.
Her social life is very active, and her boyfriend adores her.
Who is happier?
Before we explore the answer to this question, let us first determine the basic necessities of life (in no particular order):
- water & food
- social activity and stimulation
Ultimately our needs boil down to the above four items. We need to eat, we need a place to sleep, we (most of us at least) require social interaction to stay sharp, and we need money to support ourselves (in the developed world anyway, and arguably everywhere). While some people might argue the primal needs for one or two of these items, most of us would agree that with these four building blocks in place, we can create a happy life for ourselves.
Both people in the scenario above have all of the above items. They obviously both eat, and they both have active social and romantic lives. Although Person A has a considerably more elaborate and luxurious home as a shelter, Person B has what she needs. And consistent with the discrepancies, Person A obviously has more money than Person B, with a freedom to spend it at will. Does that make Person A happier though? On the surface it would appear that at least Person A would feel less stress about her financial matters than Person B. But is this true?
Although Person A works incrementally less and makes more money each year, she is married to her career and on some days would say she feels trapped by it; there is no turning the switch off or leaving work at the office for her. She is financially rewarded for her efforts, yet she has a nagging voice in the back of her head that insists she is missing out on something bigger, something deeper, just something.
And although Person B seems consumed by her desire to scrimp and save money, she also does not work too hard. She enjoys every minute of what she does, and continues to call the shots. She makes enough money to support herself comfortably (albeit frugally), consistently reach her goals, and she manages to “work to live” instead of “live to work”.
So who is happier? Both have it all, in their own ways. Both are reaching their goals, and both have financial yins and yangs inside of them. We all want more money, but then again there seems to be a price tag that comes along with a higher income; it is a higher cost of living. The more your salary increases, the more your expenses do too, without you even noticing it.
Harping on the adage about money not leading to happiness is overdone. Both Person A and Person B have all the ingredients for success and happiness. Their basic needs are met, and everything else is simply for comfort or entertainment. Is a child with a Nintendo Wii really happier than a child in a developing country with nothing more than a wheelbarrow to play with? No, of course not.
So instead of determining who is happier in the above scenario, it may be more constructive for you to determine which person YOU would prefer to be. You may not even need to change anything significant about your life; it may simply be a shift in perspective and action that is required. Once all of life’s basic necessities are met, the rest is truly superfluous.
I am both of these people. I made my choice to become Person B, and I happily live by it every day. What will it take for you to find – and use – your own key to happiness?
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