Wealth, Health and Happiness

John Stephens, MD, MBA, CFA, CFP®

Jan 4, 2021

During the course of my professional career, as a primary care physician and now as a wealth advisor, the intersection of wealth, health and happiness has always interested me. Happiness is such a complex concept, as the pieces of the puzzle are unique to each of us. Below are a few principles I try to live by in my own pursuit of happiness. 

1. Wealth does not Equal Happiness

As many a wise person related “Money can’t buy happiness.” But to take it one step further, a 2010 study by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman showed that once family income exceeds $75,000 a year there is no significant increases in happiness.

This really quantifies and confirms Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once we humans have sufficient food, water and shelter, the next steps of love/belonging, esteem and actualization do not require money. They are much more about personal exploration.

2. Whatever you are Doing, do it Well… Multitasking is Overrated

Stanford professor Clifford Nass studied and demonstrated the human mind does not multitask well and in fact even trying to do so makes things worse.

High multitaskers have worse performance on tasks, poor memory and surprisingly even did worse at switching between tasks. Trying to do more than one thing at a time creates stress.

3. Mindfulness can be as Simple as Accepting the Present

John Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer and meditation teacher, has researched mindfulness for decades. His research has shown mindfulness to decrease stress, lower blood pressure, decrease pain and increase overall well-being.

To quote him, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”

An interesting side effect is that living in the present (as opposed to the past which is old news, or the future which may never be) also forces me to not worry about things that I cannot change. I carve out specific times when I make plans and otherwise try to live more in the present moment. As you can imagine, this is quite a simple concept but very difficult to do. It actually becomes easier with practice.

4. Experiences are What we Really Cherish

We all know this intuitively. We remember kids or grandkids that play with a new toy for about 30 seconds and then spend more time playing in the box it comes in. Somehow as adults we fail to realize the same is true for us. Memories of the experience are what we really retain. I found an interesting fact published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life: One of the happiest moments is the excitement and joy that comes from planning a vacation more so than actually going on the vacation.

5. Find Your Purpose in Life

Many people equate their job/career with their identity and self worth. Some retirees struggle with this exact issue when they finally retire.

My artist brother shared a book with me many years ago. I have shared this book with many patients and now with retiring clients. Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

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