Sunday, November 12, 2017

can't buy happiness - but sometimes you sort of can

"You can't buy happiness". That's the sentiment of a lot of self-help books and internet sites. "You need to look into yourself and find the source of your happiness there".

While I don't disagree on a larger scale, clearly there are a lot of unhappy rich people whom we can see sprawled all over the newspapers and internet every day, I would say that a lot of unhappiness (uncertainty and insecurity) can come from not having enough money and that some parts of happiness can be bought.

At least from where I'm sitting right now, having has another conversation with one of my friends who is really trying to get it all together. They are in the same boat as a few of my coworkers. It's clear to me that a few hundred more a month would make a huge difference to them. It's not that they are poor, not per se. They have a place to stay, the have a full time job, it's just that they have no margins at all. Holidays are not on the margin list, not really.

I can tell that the biggest issue for some of my "examples" are that they are single. And with that I mean, they live alone. I know that my biggest saving ever came when I moved in with someone (even when I was footing the majority of the bills and paying for two - I had more money than when I was single). Why? Because it was so much easier to socialize at home as a couple than being a single person and staying in meant most of the time - not meeting anyone. It's also not only boring but difficult to cook for one for cheap, it'll be two or more portions of most anything you try.

The staying in is not the key thing, obviously. It's that the base line cost of living in a place; rent, tv, cleaning supplies, everything else that you have in a place regardless of if you are one or two (or three or more) is pretty high. It's not exponentially more expensive when you add people, the flat fee for being single is always going to be much more. And that makes it hard for someone who has a fairly low salary/wage to save up and then have margins. And that's even without the added "please deposit two months salary for an appartment".

I know I read a number somewhere, but I don't remember where and to be fair I don't remember the exact number, where it was stated that about this much a year makes people feel safe and happy. More money than that isn't adding to their happiness, but less money than that increases the unhappy feeling and sense of security.

This "sometimes it's just a small difference to you, but it's huge to someone else" is a point I'm trying to make now when the Holidays are coming around in the United States. First Thanksgiving and then Christmas and other religious holidays. There is an increase in asking for donations and money for people to help them. To give a good meal. To be able to help with warm clothes etc. It's the season and so on.

I'm not trying to sound like a saint here, I'm really not, but for the last five to ten years my family and I have been removing "gifts to each other" at various occasions - Mother's day, Father's day, Birthdays and even Christmas - with donations to good causes. It started since we have some long time standing volunteering going on with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders. And I have worked with vaccines and developments for a long time so why not donate to "pure drinking water for a year" or "vaccinations against measles in children". When I moved to the USA I found Heifer and Kiva, not to mention a lot of local charities who focus on the city I live in, and it seemed like a good idea to expand on.

On a smaller, closer scale I try and make some meaningful gifts for the people I see close to me. It's a little trickier, I won't lie about that. I'm fortunate that I can do a lot of things I want to and it doesn't mean that I worry about my retirement or my present day rent. I see how much a gift card of $10 to a popular coffee chain makes someone I work with very happy since they can indulge in one expensive drink one day without feeling that they broke the bank. Or the good quality gloves I donated to the "men's wardrobe" last year that one of the workers wanted to have for himself rather than giving it to a homeless man since they looked too expensive to waste on someone who could never buy them themselves... Or giving a dinner gift card to celebrate an 10 year anniversary at work or as a big "Thank you". 

I am aware that this might make me sound entitled or that it might make people feel uncomfortable but there are ways to make it less odd and power balancy. I make it clear that these are not "reciprocal" gifts. It's not that I expect that back (some people will try but that's missing the point since I know I have more money than they and the point was to help them), but that I would like to do something nice for someone. Again, it't not super easy to get this to be non-weird, but if you have some sort of relationship with people it can be done. And also that I personally think it is what you should do as a "manager" or someone "higher up" in the job hierarchy.

In my old job I tried to get the Boss to consider giving the cleaning people and the low paid administrator something extra for the Holidays. Partly because I estimated that Boss made well over five times than the others did, partly because I knew that there was a discretionary fund that could be used. Well, it didn't fly and there was no holiday gifts. I won't lie though, I was pretty happy when my coworkers approved of my idea on Boss' day that we all donated to Heifer and gave a goat to a family in need instead of some flowers and stuff.

For me nowadays? I give "Flock of Hope", measles vaccine, quick testing of malaria, tetanus shots, microloans to sustain a family, or teaching girls to read and write, a Thanksgiving box for families who don't have the means and print these gift certificates for my family and friends. Most of the times it's appreciated much more than random gift certificates with money getting swapped around since "we should exchange gifts". 

I will see how a Flock of chicks plays in the Dirty Santa game we play at work in a month. Maybe it will be stolen more than the "salt stone lamp to increase healthy air"someone brought last year?

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