More Than Money
Issue #38

Money and Happiness

Table of Contents

“Playing the Game”

Pollyanna's Secret Weapon

By Ruth Ann Harnisch

Copyright © 2004 by More Than Money. All rights reserved. For permission to use or reprint articles, please contact More Than Money at 617-864-8200 or .

Ruth Ann Harnisch is a personal coach and philanthropist who is constantly searching for new ideas that will help make the world a better place. She is the president of The Harnisch Family Foundation and serves on the board of governors of the International Association of Coaches. She is also the founder of The Dignitarian Dialogues (www.digdi.com), Thrillionaires (www.thrillionaires.org) and Coach100Free (www.coach100free.com).

"As you ramble on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the donut
And not upon the hole."
-Dr. Murray Banks

Many people who have never experienced wealth find it difficult to believe that rich people aren't automatically happy people. As one man said to a woman of means, "With all the potential of what your money could do, if you're not happy, what hope do the rest of us have?"

Me, I'm rich and happy. I'm "Pollyanna rich." Remember Pollyanna? The heroine of Eleanor H. Porter's 1913 novel, Pollyanna is an 11- year-old orphan who finds happiness and comfort-even in the face of life's most painful moments-by "playing The Game." The Game is simple: Find as much as you can to be glad about in each circumstance of your life. Pollyanna assumed her new guardian, the wealthy Miss Polly Harrington, knew The Game:

"'Oh, Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly,' breathed the little girl, rapturously, 'what a perfectly lovely, lovely house! How awfully glad you must be you're so rich!'" 1

But Aunt Polly was decidedly not glad about her riches-such sinful pride and arrogance! One of the town's wealthiest citizens, Polly was a "stern, severe-faced woman.who never thought to smile.." 2

That is not the kind of rich woman I am. I'm as glad as Pollyanna thought Aunt Polly should be. Almost every second of my life with money is happier than almost any moment I experienced when I was without money. I now enjoy life's luxuries to a degree made possible only by the contrast to my previous existence. That's a fact. Here's another fact: I now believe I'm capable of being very happy even if I were to be poor again. That's because I now know for sure what I would not have believed without firsthand knowledge: Money isn't as big a factor in true happiness as most people think.

The Research Shows.

"Once basic necessities are met, the increasing economic status of a person's family has no effect on the likelihood of feeling satisfied with his or her life."
-From The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It by David Niven, HarperSanFrancisco, 2004, p. 64. Original research reported in "Effects of Family Structure, Family SES, and Adulthood Experiences on Life Satisfaction" by V. Louis and S. Zhao, Journal of Family Issues , Vol. 23, 2002, pp. 986-1005.

A study looking at the ratio of good thoughts people have to bad thoughts (including memories, reverie, and explanations) found that "depressed people had an equal ratio: one bad thought to each good thought. Nondepressed people had roughly twice as many good thoughts as bad ones."
-From Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E. P. Seligman, Free Press, 2002, p. 226. Original research reported in "Cognitive Balance and Psychopathology: Evaluation of an Information Processing Model of Positive and Negative States of Mind" by R. Schwartz and G. Garamoni, Clinical Psychology Review , Vol. 9, 1989, pp. 271-94.

".having a positive attitude about those around us is among the most important predictors of life satisfaction.without such attitudes, we are less than half as likely to feel happy."
-From The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It by David Niven, HarperSanFrancisco, 2000, p. 141. Original research reported in "Satisfaction in Later Life" by J. C. Glass and G. Jolly, Educational Gerontology , Vol. 23, 1997, p. 297.

When I first began having deep conversations with wealthy people, I was shocked to discover that (a) money really didn't solve most problems, and (b) that it was possible to feel perfectly miserable while having plenty of money. Even more surprising to me was that the opposite could also be true. It is possible to feel perfectly happy without much money.

Money surely contributes less to my overall happiness than I imagined it would when I didn't have any. I turned out to be just like most people: Once my basic needs were covered, I was no more or less happy than I was without money-until I decided that I wanted to be happier, and I set about the task of learning how to create more happiness for myself through intention and action.

Pollyanna knew the secret of happiness, and now I do, too. Living "happily ever after" is not a matter of circumstance. It's a disciplined practice-although there is that little matter of DNA. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a pioneering researcher in the field of happiness, says that some people were born to be happier than others. Each of us, he maintains, has a happiness "set point" determined by our genetic makeup. (See Seligman's book Authentic Happiness , Free Press, 2002). But despite the gene pool, as much as 40% of what goes into making us happy is within our own control, Seligman says. He teaches how to tip the percentages in favor of personal happiness.

One key component of happiness is gratitude. Seligman encourages everyone to complete his Gratitude Questionnaire (available for free at www.authentichappiness. com ) and then engage in deliberate behavior to raise their level of gratitude, which he says will naturally increase happiness. To do this yourself, you can begin by simply listing, each day, three things for which you are grateful.

Or you might like to try another of his assignments: the Gratitude Letter, followed by the Gratitude Visit. For this, you write a thoughtful, specific, sincere letter to someone to whom you have not formally expressed gratitude. Once the letter has been written-but not mailed-make an appointment with the person to whom you wrote the letter. You might visit the person at home or perhaps invite the recipient out to share a celebratory meal. During the visit, you read the letter aloud to the recipient. Almost always, Seligman says, a Gratitude Visit produces happiness for both.

I once did something similar when I tracked down my most influential teacher, three decades after she touched my life. Though I could not visit in person, I phoned her, telling her some of the details of my gratitude. Then I wrote an article about it. It was published in Nashville, and I arranged to have it appear in her hometown paper as well. Within a short time, I received a note with her return address on it. I beamed, thinking I was about to get some pretty good praise from my toughest teacher. Inside was a note from her husband, telling how much she loved my phone call, how flattered she was by the article, and how amazed she was by what had happened next: Former students and their families who read the article began flooding her with their own letters and calls of gratitude, telling her what had become of her elocution, algebra, poetry, and French students. Her husband concluded his note by saying he was sure that his wife would have wanted me to know how much all of that meant to her, especially coming as it did just before she died.

Expressing gratitude to others brings happiness to both giver and receiver. But you can also follow Pollyanna's example and express gratitude even when no one else is around. Anyone who plays The Game is in the constant habit of finding reasons to be grateful, focusing on what's right in every moment instead of what's wrong.

The secrets of happiness are simple, but not necessarily easy. Each of us is the sole author of the story of our lives, and it's up to us to write that story so that the leading character lives happily -and gratefully-ever after. .

Resources
Simple Abundance and Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude
by Sarah Ban Breathnach
(Warner Books, 1995 and 1996)
This book and its companion journal help you focus on gratitude as a way to find happiness in your life.

www.authentichappiness.com
The official website for Dr. Martin Seligman's book Authentic Happiness (Free Press, 2002). The free questionnaires on this site can help you determine your levels of happiness and the attributes that contribute to happiness, such as gratitude and optimism. You'll also find resources for raising your happiness levels, including information about authentic happiness coaching and training in positive psychology.


1 Pollyanna , Eleanor H. Porter, Puffin Books, 1994, Chapter 4, p. 25. You can read Pollyanna (free of charge) online .

2 Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 4.


© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved