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Wealth: The Illusion of Happiness

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It's official: 2009 was a more stressful year than 2008. But if you think being wealthy will make you happier, you might be disappointed.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Americans suffered more stress last year, with fewer happy, stress-free days. The daily polls that help calculate the index found that many of the most stressful days came early in the year, when the country was facing extreme economic turmoil. The days surrounding the House's passage of the stimulus bill clocked in with some of the highest readings of the year.

More money, more problems?
Obviously, financial stress is a big contributing factor to our unhappiness. Interestingly, though, after a certain point of financial stability, more wealth does not necessarily make us more happy.

A 2006 study by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and colleagues found that people with above-average income are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experiences; they actually tend to be more tense. Focusing on the illusion that wealth makes you happy may in fact have the reverse effect. 

Give a little, get a lot
So if money and status don't contribute to happiness, then what can you do to be happier? According to a recent article in the New York Times, donating gifts -- of money or time -- can not only lift spirits, but actually improve one's physical health. The article followed the story of a young woman with multiple sclerosis who gave a gift a day for 29 days, and experienced a noticeable improvement in her health. The idea is to "step outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else."

Along those lines, we'd like to extend a sincere thank you -- and congratulations! -- to the Fool community for supporting our 13th annual Foolanthropy campaign. Foolanthropy is the Motley Fool's philanthropic effort focused on financial literacy and volunteerism. This year, the Fool "adopted" a local D.C. charter school by pledging $0.10 for every community comment, discussion board post, and blog post throughout the campaign. What happened next was truly impressive: The community engaged in a grassroots effort to boost our donation to the school, which ended up totaling $11,596.30. Here are some highlights:

  • Community participation in blog posts like this one helped raise the total exponentially.
  • Spontaneous "matching" contributions added $3,000 in direct donations to the school.
  • Fool co-founders Tom and David Gardner were inspired to make generous personal donations.

In addition to our monetary contribution, Fool employees will volunteer throughout the year, imparting our financial wisdom on students and parents, in hopes of helping them achieve the financial stability that can make a difference in their overall happiness.

A Foolish pat on the back
While several well-known corporations such as Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW  ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , Allstate (NYSE: ALL  ) , McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP  ) , and Ford (NYSE: F  ) have philanthropic efforts focused on financial literacy, few have such a passionate and dedicated community as The Motley Fool's. Since Foolanthropy began, we have collectively raised $3 million. 

As Fool writer Dayana Yochim put it: "Maybe a handful of Fools teaching money lessons in one D.C. public charter school can't save the next generation from the financial missteps of the previous ones. But student-by-student, we're going to do our best."

So again, we thank you for your Foolish involvement in the campaign, and encourage you to seek out volunteer opportunities in your own community. Perhaps it will bring more happiness in 2010, and increased well-being. And heck, maybe we can save the next generation from the financial missteps of the previous one!

Claire Stephanic does not own any of the companies mentioned. Ford Motor and Charles Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (11)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2010, at 10:42 AM, miteycasey wrote:

    To paraphrase an author whom I can't remember.

    "I've been happy poor, and happy rich. Happy rich if just more fun."

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2010, at 3:22 PM, thetucket wrote:

    To paraphrase an author whom I CAN remember:

    "Look at this stuff

    Isn't it neat?

    Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?

    Wouldn't you think I'm the girl

    The girl who has everything?

    Look at this trove

    Treasures untold

    How many wonders can one cavern hold?

    Looking around here you think

    Sure, she's got everything

    I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty

    I've got whozits and whatzits galore

    You want thingamabobs?

    I've got twenty!

    But who cares?

    No big deal

    I WANT MORE..."

    Don't we all....

    ...and isn't that the problem?

    Obviously, it'd be nice to have more money, assuming having it didn't entail all sorts of necessary increases in workload, changes in desires, attitudes, responsibilities, priorities, etc; but I think the real key is to learn to live with less, want the extent that is philosophically possible in this morally corrupt and money-grubbing thingamabob-worshiping culture. The less you need to be satisfied, the less getting more (money, boats, houses, human legs and whatchamacallits) will matter.

    Apparently someone (rumor has it a certain Russian Oligarch) paid almost $105 Million for a Giacometti statue yesterday. Seriously? $105 Million. For a statue. C'mon! Dude, that could have paid a WHOLE YEAR's salary for Lloyd Blankfein!

    Hey, rich people, you want happiness, invest your ridiculous amounts of wealth on other human beings and your happiness returns will be exponential, because you'll not only be just a little more happy yourself, you'll allow those others the opportunity to achieve that blissful state as well. Happiness should not be a privilege reserved for the Forbes' list.

    Thanks for donating some $$ fools!

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2010, at 11:34 AM, happyshirts wrote:

    Would you like to be happier? There is a 3 minute video that can help.

    It describes what makes us happy and the activities that the latest research has shown can increase our happiness and well-being.

    Take a quick look and try one of the suggested activities!

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Foolanthropy 2010

“With an innovative, deserving partner in Thurgood, we’re focusing our efforts where Fools can make a real difference,” says Motley Fool Co-founder and CEO Tom Gardner. This holiday season, help The Motley Fool give disadvantaged students a superior education.

To learn more about our adopted school, or to make a donation, click here.

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