Saturday, 15 November 2008

What REALLY defines your happiness?

So I've been asking myself this question a lot recently.

The wiki definition for the 'Standard of Living' is the quality and quantity of goods and services available to people, and the way these goods and services are distributed within a population.

The wiki definition for 'Quality of life' is the degree of well-being felt by an individual or group of people.. It consists of two components: physical (e.g. health, diet) and psychological (e.g. stress, worry, pleasure) and other positive or negative emotional states.

In an ideal world you would have the best of both worlds but unfortunately the two are often at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Happiness and success are also potentially worlds apart.

When I was growing up the following rather simplified guidelines to achieving happiness and success applied:
  • Study hard in high school so you get enough points to get into a good College/Uni
  • Study hard to graduate from said good College/Uni so you can get a good job
  • Get a good secure job with prospects to advance so you can be 'successful'
  • Work hard and try and save as much as possible so you can eventually settle down
  • Get on the property ladder and keep climbing cos 'there's gold in them there hills'
  • The better you are at this, the bigger your house will be.
  • The bigger the house, the more cars, gadgets and toys for the kids.
To reach this nirvana for many people (not all) sometime looks like this.

Let me introduce the Sucker Family.

Mr Gaylord Sucker commutes 2 hours and works 10 hours a day in a high stress environment. Half the time, he makes it home in time to tuck the kids into bed, half the time he doesn't.
Missus Sucker works locally but juggles dropping the kids at expensive day care and running her own business. The kids are spoiled with all the clothes, toys, gadgets and everything and anything they need except enough attention from their exhausted parents.

The family spend 2 weeks in LottsaFunland each year but Mr S is constantly checking his Blackberry and is called away to conference calls 2 to 3 times a day. Mrs S has to check up on her business by phoning her liason for long conversations 3 times a day and checking on emails in the evening. The kids have a great time but the parents find it difficult to relax while juggling the work demands and keeping the kids happy.

15 years of this continues and seems to fly by and they move twice into bigger better homes. Mr S is now the proud owner of a top of the range blue BMW and Mrs S has an identical red one. Mr S is a bit burnt out but the kids still need to go thru college so he must persist. The kids have become a bit of a handful and ungratefully resent Mr and Mrs S's lack of quality time over the years. Rebellious outbursts are frequent. They rarely eat dinner together anymore and when they do get together, arguments typically ensue.

With the downturn in the global economy Mr S gets laid off but with a decent redundancy package there's no immediate need for alarm. Mr S starts to remember what it was like NOT to dread Monday mornings and wants to spend more time with kids, but they are now grown up and indifferent to his newly rekindled interest.

Mrs S's business also takes a nose dive and stress levels in the home rise as she is now the sole bread winner. Mrs S's mother visits but this only adds to the stress as she never got along with Mr S and they are not on civil terms. Mr and Mrs S wonder where the years went and how, even though they have all the material possessions anybody could want, they wonder why the family is not quite 'a Unit' and happiness has somehow eluded them.

Best case scenario - With a bit of luck they all live long and healthy but not necessarily happily ever after. Thankfully my own story is far removed from this nightmare, but it is something I have observed in friends and colleagues too many times.

Alternate case study - I've seen entire families here in Argentina (on or close to the poverty line) - grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren sitting around an Asado (BBQ) on the side of the road, who look more family functional, happier and healthier than the messed up wealthy family of 'The Suckers' above.

Being part of the rat race facilitates a certain standard of living but at what cost to your quality of life?

How do you define your 'REAL' Quality of Life and Standard of Living?
What REALLY makes you happy?
Yes - there's nobody else here - I am talking to YOU?!!

Tags: ..quality of life in Argentina, standard of living in Argentina,quality of life in Buenos Aires, standard of living in Buenos Aires..

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Anonymous,  November 15, 2008 6:52 pm  

great post.
i don't necessarily thing a lot of money brings happiness. all the material things you listed this hypothetical (? or real) family has.
but i do believe serious lack of money doesn't help either.
i think a happy medium where you work enough to have enough money to live simply but not having to think about how you get by tomorrow, is great and i am more than happy to be right at that point.
i have never been a "I must have the latest model of BMW or an Iphone or 200,000 inch plasma TV" sort of person but if i didn't have enough money to get my hair done every once a few weeks, or to buy books, or to pay for my internet, or buy organic food i like (organic is expensive), go see a movie, etc etc I don't think I'd feel that happy. By the way this small list is not a priority order, just little things I think of that make me happy.
The rat race sucks, those of us who are employees are working to make the boss get rich, and those of us who have their own jobs work incredibly long hours.
Sometimes I wish I were an actress or something, a very famous well liked, then I think even that has it's own stress and messed-upness that comes with it. Why bother?

WanderMom November 15, 2008 10:26 pm  

Thought-provoking post Paddy.
I'm glad I followed the school-college-work route in one way, because I had a bloody good time at Uni. Definitely worth the effort.
But, I've struggled with the definitions of success since. I like not having to worry (too much) about money, but collecting things doesn't make me happy - being with family and friends does. And having a good book to read. And a clean kitchen (what can I say?). Hugs from my kids - and husband. A little Tommy Tiernan thrown in for just laugh-out-loud good humor.
I've worked on and off since my kids were born, trying to avoid the scenario you describe above. Do I feel envious of friends who have scaled the corporate ladder while I was at the playground? Some days, yes. Most days, I know I've made the right choices for my kids.

Thriftcriminal November 16, 2008 7:25 am  

Good one sir.

All the incidental crap that consumerism has filled our lives with divides us. The marketing is focussed on satisfying your needs as an individual, because this makes for an effective divide and conquor strategy, as opposed to selling to a household, sell to each person in the household, bigger effective market.

The most rewarding things are those that we do together as a family. It typically takes a bit more effort, but gives back many times over. Standard of living definitions seem skewed in favour of western standards, and we already know these are dysfunctional. No, we all need to stop looking for the easy solution and the quick fix, don't turn on the tv, read a book, talk, play a board game, go for a walk, play with the kids. All that stuff that costs sod all (and so is not at the forefront of our minds, as advertisers don't want our awareness of free stuff to interfere with them selling shit to us). Ghaa. I feel another post coming on.

Queen of Clean November 16, 2008 7:40 am  

Nice one Paddy, my sentiments exactly. The only important thing in life is to be happy, everything else follows. I came back to my career later in life, after spending the early years with the boys, then my husband took over for a couple of years, so we both know how essential it is to give them the time they need, they don't care if they don't get an x-box or the latest trainers, (maybe we're just lucky!)all they want is for you to notice that they have drawn you a picture of the dog in the bath!

Hving said all that, I will be a pain in the arse to the oldest three and make sure they go to to Uni! I keep telling them they will have to keep their old Ma and their autistic brother in their old age!!

Lot to be said for Catholic guilt! ;)

Julia November 16, 2008 9:45 am  

Hi Paddy,

Interesting topic. I've actually given this a lot of thought since I've moved here.

As one accumulates more money, it has diminishing returns in how it affects one's life. The purchase of a refrigerator, to someone who doesn't have one, makes a huge difference in their quality of life. The choice between a fridge with an automatic ice dispenser or without one-- well, not so much.

Economists call this a utility curve. As you earn more income your utility curve flattens out, and the value that purchases add to your life diminishes.

I call this the "happiness threshold." There is a certain level of material wealth required to make one content (obviously this differs with people's values)- and beyond that money doesn't have a big effect. For those below the threshold, however, it's huge.

I don't think there's anything wrong with someone at 25 trying to make as much money as they can to prepare themselves for the future. The problem is many people keep living at 45 like they did at 25 without understanding how things have changed.

The secret is to understand when you've reached your threshold, and live slightly beneath your means. Then you can concentrate on other things that make you happy without worrying about money- family, friends, career, etc.

Nick November 16, 2008 12:43 pm  

I couldn't put it much better than Gaye. I've always gone for poorly paid but enjoyable jobs and I'm happy enough with a few creature comforts, I couldn't care less about getting the latest fashionable gadgets or appliances.

I'm always bemused by the constant strivers who never stop working and always look harassed and burnt out. Whatever personal time they have is constantly eaten into by work interruptions and stress, and the only person who really benefits is their employer. Thanks but no thanks.

Megan November 17, 2008 1:51 am  

Great post and great comments. I'll be thinking about this. Thanks Paddy.

Nomadic Matt November 17, 2008 7:12 am  

you pretty much have just summarized america right there. i have friends who live that exact life style. i am glad i a broke out.

Quickroute November 17, 2008 8:58 am  

@ Gaye: Happy medium is the key - just sticking to it is what trips most people up

@ WanderMom: I know some who have scaled the Corporate ladder and managed to be out the door at 6pm but not many

@ Thrifty: Advertising is very much to blame alright - brain washes people into thinking this is how they should be living

@ Queenie: It's strange but true a kid can be happier playing with a few wooden blocks than an xbox but unless you lock the kids in the basement that's hard to achieve

@ Juila: yes - moderation seems to be the key theme here but greed seems to be winning the battle

@ Nick: there's a lot to be said for being happy with your lot

@ Megan: Cheers

@ Matt: Yes- America and most of the financial centers in the world

TCL November 17, 2008 9:18 am  

I've been thinking a bit about this too. Something to sort out when I get to BsAs I guess. It's part of the journey.

I haven't got much of a family as my father used to follow your mentioned model. I've spent most holidays traveling on my own seeing different parts of the world. So yeah - dysfunctional.

Broke But Still Drinking November 17, 2008 4:28 pm  

When I find there is still enough toilet paper to last the weekend, I am happy.

If I turn on a premium channel and they are having a promotion weekend with free movies, I am happy.

When I call to find out why I haven't received a car bill and they tell me it's been paid off, I am happy.

When I find out my favorite fast food restaurant has closed, I am very sad and the previous three mean nothing.

Quickroute November 17, 2008 7:28 pm  

@ TCL: Traveling is where I do my best thinking - you'll figure it out

@ Broke: Not easy to please you then

Anonymous,  November 17, 2008 8:06 pm  

Thanks for the thought provoking post quick-route. As you know this is something I have always struggled with, hopefully your post and feedback you received will inspire me to find the right balance going forward.

Thank you for the blog, I always find it thought provoking.

All the Best.

Your Friend
The Silver Fox

Caro November 18, 2008 4:13 am  

Excellent post Quickie. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and just last week have decided to take my translation exams so I can eventually work from home and cut out the crazy commute.

It's just not worth it.

Quickroute November 18, 2008 1:19 pm  

@ Silver Fox: Always glad to hear I provoked some thought - cheers mate

@ Caro: Good on ya - good luck with the exams

Fida November 18, 2008 8:42 pm  

Is that a coincidence or what? I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and I felt such a rush of happiness from what I saw that I started to think: what really is happiness for me? I started to write about it for my blog. I didn’t have much time over the past few days to read other blogs and so I just discovered your account about happiness. What really does “standard of living” mean? We are all different, we have different needs, and we define happiness or ‘standard of living’ in a different way. A very good friend of mine needs action. He’s always on the go. He LOVES his job, his status symbols – but he also likes to give. He’s the happiest guy I know. I, on the other hand, am completely different, the opposite really. I have ‘nothing’ compared to him, live a very simple life – he would say boring - and I am extremely happy as well.

Baino November 18, 2008 10:10 pm  

I started out with the Uni, get a good job, house, mortgage etc. but it went pear shaped when my husband died and my lifestyle changed for ever. It took me a long time to be truly happy and at peace with myself. It didn't take lots of money and things but a tight little family and two pretty awesome children and for a while, my wonderful parents. Although I've accumulated debt, I have assets to cover it in the long run so I'm fine with my progeny, my dog, my pc and my environmentally friendly home. I know my carbon footprint is light, I'm overweight, therefore not starving . . .I'm warm in winter and cool in summer . . . and my family loves me. That's it. That's all it takes.

Quickroute November 18, 2008 10:14 pm  

@ Baino: Just when I think I've written a good post - you come a long and spill a comment in 30 seconds to eclipse the post - I tip my hat good lady

Quickroute November 18, 2008 10:25 pm  

@ Fida: Happiness is a very personal thing - don't let anyone tell you different - especially the media - glad you posted on a similar theme

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