Can lasting happiness be traced back to the almighty dollar? It's an age-old question, and the answer tends to vary depending on who you ask. Some say they'd sure be happier if they could afford to pay off their debts and live out the rest of their days in stress-free retirement bliss. Others swear that real happiness, like the feeling you get when your child wraps you in a warm hug, simply can't be bought.
In all my years of helping people manage their wealth and investments, I've learned that both are true. Happiness is hard to come by if you're plagued by financial insecurity. This is because what financial peace of mind really gives us is freedom. At its core, money is a resource that, if used wisely, opens the door for what matters to you most—things that don't have a price tag, like taking time to help your child with a school project or connect with your significant other.
When financial stress is down, we have more mental space and attention for life's true treasures, like family and friends. It makes sense that those struggling to make ends meet seem to have lower happiness levels. A now-famous 2010 research study out of Princeton University found that earning less than $75,000 a year was linked to more stress and everyday sadness. It stands to reason that once our basic needs are met, day-to-day stress tends to go down.
But the research also had one other particularly interesting finding: general happiness levels didn't improve much for folks who excelled beyond that $75,000 mark. In other words, someone making $200,000 wasn't all that much happier than someone earning $100,000 less.
Thanks to inflation, that $75,000 figure has surely gone up a tick since 2010. So how much do you need to be financially comfortable these days? According to Charles Schwab's annual Modern Wealth Index, an average net worth of $1.4 million should do it; $2.4 million to be considered wealthy. But these findings also come with a non-financial twist "Living stress-free/peace of mind" and "Loving relationships with my family and friends" are among the top definitions of personal wealth.
In many ways, true and lasting wealth has less to do with our net worth and more to do with our outlooks and values. On the same note, building wealth isn't so much about how much money and assets we accumulate—instead, it really depends on how we choose to spend our money. At JJ Burns & Company, our wealthiest clients (i.e. those whose financial choices are in line with their values) all have one thing in common: they've put their money to work for them by way of a diversified, long-term written investment plan.
Taking the long view is best here. Whether your idea of real wealth is the ability to put your kids through college stress-free, retire early and spend more time with family, or have the opportunity to travel the world and feed your wanderlust, smart investing is the best way to get there—and the time to start is always now. Thanks to the magic of compounding interest, those who start early typically reap the biggest returns.
All this means, in simple terms, is to keep our investments balanced. This is diversification, and it's essential to putting some muscle behind your money in order to ultimately fund your long-term goals. Why? The market is a notoriously volatile place, and ups and downs are simply par for the course. Diversifying is your best protection; if one area of your portfolio dips, it's not enough to tank your whole plan. The best analogy for long-term stability is to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.
Many of us zero in on hitting a specific salary milestone or amassing a certain degree of assets to measure how wealthy we are. But I've learned that true wealth has much more to do with freedom—more specifically, having the freedom to use your time in a way that fosters true happiness. Spending quality time with family and friends, and making memories with loved ones, are easily life's greatest riches. The same goes for having the financial freedom to pursue our passions, nurture our health, and attend to our life's purpose. Our money is perhaps our most powerful resource for achieving all these things.
Being our client means knowing that when it comes to your personal vision of wealth and happiness, we're right behind you, echoing your values every step of the way. The most important part of the equation is putting a stable plan in place to help you get there.