We’ve all read the research about how to achieve happiness: lay off the booze, get more exercise, spend less time in the office and more time with your family.
Yet what happens when you ask 19,914 ordinary Aussies what really makes them happy?
That’s what one of Australia’s largest and longest-running happiness studies, HILDA (the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia survey), has done. And according to at least some of its findings, happiness can be found by being a booze-hound (up to 42 drinks a week), working like a demon (up to 11 hours a day), and never retiring. Oh, and by not having kids — they’ll only make you miserable.
Put that in your herbal tea infuser and smoke it, you yoga-posing, kale-chomping, mindfully-meditating happiness hippy! Have a beer and chillax, ya mug!
Okay, so it’s a little more complex than that. Since 2001 HILDA has asked the same 19,000-plus Aussies about their lives, and in the process has pinpointed the common characteristics of people who earn more, are wealthier, are healthier and are in happier relationships. (In other words, all the people you hate on Facebook).
While the study is wonderfully broad, it’s nonetheless limited (as the professors themselves are the first to admit), because it just presents the survey responses. It reports on the what, not the why.
My whole life, on the other hand, is devoted to the why. I lead a wealth-building community of over 100,000 people, many of whom confide in me about their financial lives, and I’ve learned a lot from their questions. So let’s you and I dig a little deeper on the survey and work out what will really put a smile on your dial.
How to Find Happiness When You’re Young
HILDA: The best age for kids to move out of home is 21-24 if they want a higher income and wealth later in life.
Barefoot: Agreed. The age-old excuse (from both kidults and parents) for people living at home in their late 20s is that they can save up for a deposit on a pad — and it almost never works out.
HILDA: People who change jobs will earn up to a 25 per cent payrise over five years, compared to 15 per cent for those who don’t … and the most secure jobs are in management and sales.
Barefoot: Why stop at 25 per cent? I’ve known people who’ve doubled and even tripled their income in five years. They didn’t necessarily do it by getting a new job (in effect, polishing up their résumé); rather, they did it by having a plan to consistently add value for their employer. How? By mastering the two most secure jobs that HILDA highlighted. The truth is that good salespeople are almost always highly paid — they’re rainmakers. Similarly, if you can lead people effectively, you can increase productivity and lower costs. Bottom line? To make more money, move the boss’s bottom line.
HILDA: You can work 51 hours in paid work, or 81 hours of total work (more than 11 hours a day), without any detrimental effect on your wellbeing,
Barefoot: Agreed. Life balance is for pussies. Work hard, play hard. In your twenties you learn so in your thirties you can earn.
The Secrets of Happy Families
HILDA: Having kids tends to make a male partner about one-third less satisfied, and a female partner between one-third and two-fifths less satisfied.
Barefoot: Disagree. Sure, my wife used to greet me at the door with a twinkle in her eye. Now it’s often (shoving our toddler into my arms): “Your turn.” Kids are overwhelming, endlessly demanding, downright expensive … but profoundly awesome. Why else would we be having another one in three months?
HILDA: Living in small towns (under 1,000 people) increases life satisfaction the most, while major cities have the opposite effect.
Barefoot: Agreed (for the right person). It could be because of the sense of community, or perhaps the clean air and open spaces. Or maybe it’s simply because housing is generally much, much cheaper.
HILDA: Families who move from an income of $30,000 to $250,000 will lift their level of wellbeing and health dramatically.
Barefoot: Sure, but let’s also invert that: families who go from earning $250,000 to $30,000 — in other words, the major breadwinner losing their job — suffer a serious decline in their wellbeing and health, to the equivalent of ageing 30 years overnight. Thankfully there’s a pill you can pop for this: it’s called Mojo.
The Anti-Retirement Solution
HILDA: Retirees (especially men) are likely to have poorer health, so working longer is better.
Barefoot: Agreed. Most men get a sense of identity from their jobs, and once that’s gone it’s a difficult adjustment. Many 60-something blokes I help out haven’t spent enough time preparing for how to invest the next 30-40 years of their lives. Without something that absorbs them, they’re often just waiting around to die.
HILDA (quoted by the media): If you sum up all the points for happiness, you’d live in Queensland, in the country, in a peaceful environment where you know your neighbors, do lots of exercise, and never retire.
Barefoot: You’ve basically described a farmer. Sure, many of them are happy but, studies show, many of them are more prone to depression than other members of the community.
The Happiness Hypothesis
Marketers have trained us to believe that happiness comes from our possessions, or our popularity (in fact they use one to sell the other). Neither leads to happiness, but the illusion keeps people in jobs that drain them as they try to live a lifestyle they can’t afford. And in this regard the evidence is overwhelming: financial insecurity will not only make you very unhappy, it’s statistically proven by HILDA to dramatically affect your health.
Surveys aside, the truth that we all grasp, sooner or later, is that genuine happiness comes from having meaning and purpose in your life. Knowing that what you do matters. That you’re making a difference to the people you care about. And in that regard, you can achieve that in the city or in the bush, whether you’re married or single, and whether you’re worth $10,000 or $10 million.