In Difficult Financial Times, Sense of Purpose is Key to Happiness
By Robert Powell
RISMEDIA, August 3, 2010--(MCT)--When it comes to feeling as though you're enjoying the good life, money matters. Make no mistake about it. But it's just one critical ingredient, according to a new study.
Being healthy, creating deep relationships with family and friends, having a sense of purpose, and feeling like you belong are major components of a happy life. What's more, those ingredients are just as true for those in their 20s as those in their 70s — and in the midst of a recession, too, according to MetLife's Mature Market Institute 2010 Meaning Really Matters study, which is based on the work of Richard J. Leider, author of "The Power of Purpose."
Being healthy and wealthy have always been two well-known ingredients of happiness, but the study also shed light on what it takes to live the good life and what type of people are living one.
If you're happy, age might have something to do with it. In 2010, almost half of those aged 45 to 74 said they were living the good life compared to just 29 percent of 25- to 44-year-olds.
But how do you know whether you're living the good life? In the study, MetLife said those living the good life uttered such comments as "Being spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy," "Having enough money not to worry about whether or not I can pay the bills; good friends to share life with" and "Having a safe, healthy, and happy life with family and friends."
MetLife said 74 percent of those living the good life were completely content, as opposed to only 24 percent who weren't living the good life. What's more, those living the good life generally look forward to each day, consider themselves very happy, are in control of their lives, and are highly optimistic about their future.
The chief component is having a sense of purpose, according to the study. That sense of purpose is "interrelated with vision — having clarity about the path to the good life and focus — knowing and concentrating on the most important things that will get you to the good life." Over eight in 10 (82 percent) of those who feel their lives have purpose are living the good life compared to 35 percent for those who are not living the good life.
The good news, at least for those who equate wisdom with age, is this: The older you are, the more likely you have vision and focus. Younger Americans, not so much — proving once again perhaps that youth is wasted on the young. Likewise, MetLife reports that older Americans (those age 45-74) are more likely to focus more on meaning-laden activities like spending more time on helping others and making their community a comfortable place to be than younger people, while younger cohorts plan to spend more time on such crass activities as generating, managing, and accumulating money.
But even though the young (and even some older folks) lack meaning in their lives now doesn't mean it will last forever. "If people are dissatisfied with their lives — if they feel it lacks meaning — they can do something about it," the study said.
"Discovering purpose is an ongoing quest rather than a one-time trip to an exotic land," the study said.
What's more, MetLife says one's purpose "is likely to change a number of times as one grows older and their experiences and goals expand and shift."
So what's the trick to leading the good instead of the bad life? Well, according to MetLife, you can greatly improve your chances by looking at your long- and short-term plans, including "a situational assessment of where you are today."
Specifically, MetLife recommends the following:
First, envision your long- and near-term future. Think about your life two or three years out and ask yourself the following questions. Then think about your life 20 years from now and ask yourself the very same questions.
Picture yourself in two or three years and then in 20 years. How old are you? What goals do you have for yourself?
What are you doing? How much are you working? If you are working, what are you doing? Are you spending the amount of time you would like with friends and family? What kind of daily routine do you have? What do you like to do with your free time?
Where are you living? Has your residence changed? Are you living in another state or location from where you are today? What kind of community are you living in? What do you like about where you live?
How are your loved ones? How close do your loved ones live to you? What are your loved ones doing? How often do you see your loved ones? What important changes in their lives have they experienced?
Second, get a sense of your wealth. What's the point of having the good life without money? Exactly. MetLife says the other thing you need to do is ask yourself the following questions about money.
Do you know what your assets are worth?
Do you know your net income?
Do you know your total spending?
Is there any money left over to help reach your goals?
Said MetLife: "Assess the information you have put together and consider whether your current financial and legal situation is on track to support your near-term and long-term goals."
Last but not least, MetLife recommends not just creating and acting on the plan, but protecting it as well. Why is that so important? As everyone knows, stuff — bad and good — happens in life.
"Living the good life also means weathering significant changes and transitions caused by positive or negative 'trigger events' such as job loss, marriage, illness, the birth of a child or grandchild, divorce, moving, retirement, and the death of a loved one," the study said.
Knowing in advance that you'll have to weather such storms will go a long way toward improving your odds of living the good life. L'chaim.
(c) 2010, MarketWatch.com Inc.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.