By Marci Shimoff
How can I be happy when my home is losing its value, my 401k is going down, and the price of everything else is going up?
That’s a question I hear a lot lately. It seems that as the economy becomes more depressed, so do we.
So what can you do about it? How can you build your happiness bank account amidst tough economic times?
Top happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener shared some new insights with me during a recent conversation. While writing Happy for No Reason, I often called upon Robert for his expertise. Known as the “Indiana Jones of positive psychology,” his research has taken him to the far corners of the earth — from the Masai in Africa to seal hunters in Greenland to the poor in Calcutta.
Robert and his father, Ed Diener, one of the preeminent scholars in the field of positive psychology, maintain in their wonderful new book, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, that our net worth is comprised of much more than our bank accounts. It includes our psychological wealth, our spiritual connection, our health, and the quality of our social networks.
One surprising finding of Robert’s research is that the homeless in Calcutta are happier than the homeless in America, simply because they have stronger networks of social relationships, which help buffer them against the dire effects of poverty. We get more happiness dividends from our relationships than we do from our dollars.
While the value of the dollar may be in flux, the value of your personal relationships and spiritual connection can always gain equity — if you take the time to nurture them. Robert says the way you spend your discretionary money — and time — affects your happiness level.
Here are two things you can do to add equity to your happiness account:
- Whenever possible, choose experience over material things. Investing $100 to take Tango lessons with your partner will provide more bang for your buck than spending that same money on a new pair of shoes.
- Spend your money on social activities rather than solitary ones. If you’re going to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks or splurge for a pedicure, do so with a friend rather than by yourself. Researchers were surprised to find that even introverts are happier when they’re in social situations.
My parents thankfully understood the importance of these concepts. For instance, they have taken our entire family (three generations) on annual vacations together for the last 20 years. I have memories galore of these fantastic holidays — from watching my parents (in their 80s) play a hilarious game of ping-pong for the first time in 50 years to all of us careening through the jungle on zip lines.
Like the TV commercial says, experiences like these are “priceless”…and they add immeasurable equity to your happiness account.
Marci Shimoff is a celebrated transformational leader and #1 New York Times best-selling author. To learn
more of her powerful techniques for establishing deep and authentic happiness and well-being, visit