Did you know that there is a peer-reviewed, academic Journal of Happiness Studies? Or have you heard of the field of behavioral economics? In 2002, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to a psychologist, Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who researched the economic concept of utility. Utility is an academic word for happiness. You won't be surprised to know that Dr. Kahneman's research has found that it’s not what we have, or even how much money we have, it’s who we spend time with, and how we spend our time, on a regular basis, that determines how happy we are.
The implication is that we should be asking ourselves what our money is for, before we start trying to give it any kind of direction. The following 10 questions are based upon the general principles found in What Color is Your Parachute? For Retirement, by John Nelson and Richard Bolles, and are designed to cover, in broad strokes, the beginning of a lifestyle plan (not just a plan for Retirement). There are three main parts: Happiness, Health, and Home.
1) WHO: In whose presence are you consistently happy? Who do you like being around because they give you joy? Who fills up your emotional tank? Write down as many or as few names as you want. Don't forget yourself. Busy people need alone time, too.
2) WHAT: What activities give you a sense of happiness and are consistently, frequently repeatable in your life? Perhaps it's walking your dog, going for a swim, or having your morning coffee on the porch. One professor arranged his life so he could walk home from work and wrote about how much his happiness improved when he didn't drive. What are the little things that make your day?
3) WHAT GROUPS: Think of the phrase “network of information and opportunities.” What circles, or networks, or groups do you spend time in that you would consider to be a network of information and opportunity for you? It does not have to be a business or career opportunity. It could be a group where you experience a personal growth opportunity, or the opportunity to get to know someone you would not have otherwise known. It also does not have to be a formal group. It can be the neighbors you always see when you walk your dog or visit your favorite restaurant.
4) WHAT ELSE: What activities that you haven’t written down yet are you committed to either now or in the future for your own growth purposes? Hobbies, volunteer activities, or going back to school, for example?
5) PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: How will you stay healthy and active throughout your life? What activities do you enjoy?
6) HEALTH RESOURCES: What kind of health resources would you like to always have around you? Perhaps you just love your G.P. or your internist. Or you have to get massages, or acupuncture, or go to yoga class, or it’s important for you to have access to a health food store or a compounding pharmacy. What do you need so you are able to take care of your health in the way you are most comfortable?
7) MENTAL FITNESS: How do you keep your mind healthy? Meditation, crossword puzzles, chess, or public speaking are all good ways to stay sharp. Write down any of those kinds of activities that you enjoy.
8) 6 USES FOR A HOME: Home can be a Job; a Project; a Museum; a Community Center; a Base of Operations; or a Retreat. How is your home used now? How would you like it to be used in the future?
9) HOW MANY HOMES: How many homes would you like? If you have in your mind your idea for another home, put it down. But remember, happiness depends upon having access to the answers in questions 1 through 7 - people, groups, and health resources. If you may make a commitment to a beautiful location with none of the resources there that you need, you may find you don't use it very much.
10) OTHER PLACES: If you have a desire to travel, where would you go, how would you travel, how often, and who with?
Going through a process like this provides a blueprint, or foundation, for defining the minimum that’s acceptable for you to live a happy, healthy life. Plus, it provides a financial, legal, or accounting professional a much better idea of who you are and how they can help you. (If your professional doesn't seem interested or care about these topics, find a new professional.)
Ultimately, this blueprint may make clear what you are willing to sacrifice for. It may inspire you to sacrifice a little now so you can have more of something later, or it may help you realize that now is the time you’ve got to enjoy the people or activities that are most important in your life.