Investing in happiness

The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection, planning and new beginnings for many. Many personal finance writers have been giving extensive and very valuable tips regarding budgeting, saving and investing to kick-start the year. These are important lessons to learn and not having money is devastating on many levels. It is, however, equally important to note that money cannot give you all the happiness you require.

Jonathan Clements, an acclaimed personal finance columnist and author wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled ‘Nine Tips for Investing in Happiness’. This article was published in 2006 yet remains very relevant today. Interestingly, none of the tips he provides involve accumulating more money, budgeting or investing. These are the three that stand out the most:

Keep your commute as short as possible

According to this study, How commuting affects subjective wellbeing by B Clark, K Chatterjee, A Martin, A Davis, there is a negative correlation between a long commute and overall wellbeing. Not only that, the mode of transport used, and the conditions experienced during the journey exacerbate the issue. The study also found that those who walk or cycle to work were happier and more satisfied with their lives compared to those who used public transport to commute.

Using this metric alone in the South African context, it would be safe to assume that the bulk of the population are experiencing lower levels of subjective well-being, given how far they must commute in often very difficult conditions. [Spatial apartheid or the segregation of the population along racial lines is still a massive reality in post-apartheid South Africa].

Enjoy a good meal

According to StatSA’s Living Conditions Survey results released in April 2019, approximately half (49,2%) of the adult population surveyed recently were living below the upper-bound poverty line. That means almost half of the population is preoccupied with survival as opposed to enjoying the little pleasures of life that so many of us take for granted daily.


Life tends to get the better of us and we often believe we have far less money and stuff than we need. Oftentimes, that cannot be farther from the truth. Volunteering your time is one way to keep you grateful and makes you feel good, physically. A few studies have proven that giving helps to release endorphins giving you a mild high. This, in turn, reduces your stress levels.

Being able to reduce your daily commute, enjoy a luxurious meal occasionally and to give (whether it is of your time or possessions) means you already possess a few things that have been proven to contribute to overall well-being and happiness. When considering your investment portfolio and changes that need to be made it, consider adding ‘happiness’ as an asset class this year. Write down all the things that make your heart sing, that bring you joy, that make you HAPPY. Make it a daily practice to actively increase your allocation to these things at all times. Do this often, particularly during times of financial difficulty, and your preoccupation will become more about the things you have as opposed to those you don’t.

Happy new year!

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